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From a broom cupboard: 20 years of rural health at Monash University


It is 20 years since the establishment of the Monash University Centre for Rural Health in 1992. Those 20 years have seen Australia’s first rural academic unit, located in a former broom cupboard at the Latrobe Valley Hospital in Moe, evolve into a multi-site school with significant facilities in Mildura, Bendigo, Moe, Traralgon, Sale and Bairnsdale, and many smaller facilities dotted elsewhere across Victoria. During this evolution it has been at the forefront of rural health teaching, research, development, advocacy and practice locally, nationally and internationally. Many dedicated people have played significant roles, and many events have altered the course of the organisation’s development and influence.

This book is a celebration of Monash University School of Rural Health’s twentieth anniversary. The aim of the publication is to tell the story of the school’s evolution using the unique perspectives of a number of authors. These authors – from inside and outside the organisation – have written, from their respective vantage points, of what they saw and experienced of the school’s maturation. When read together their contributions provide a rich collage of the school’s history.

Roger Strasser explains the chain of ideas and events that led to the ‘cleaners’ store’ at the Moe Hospital. He expands on the ever-increasing surge of projects and programs as the organisation’s activities and influence grew over the first 10 years. Elaine Duffy, Janice Chesters and others contribute to a chapter focusing on the non-medical training streams of activity that have ultimately come together as the Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health (MUDRIH). This chapter also explains the changing emphases and influences throughout the organisation’s history. An external view of the organisation is provided in chapter three where relationships with public service organisations, the faculty and health services are reviewed. This chapter also includes an account by Michael Wooldridge of the political environment that lead to the introduction of the University Departments of Rural Health and Rural Clinical Schools programs.

Undergraduate medical training was the original activity of the newly formed Centre for Rural Health and has continued for two decades. However, from the introduction of the regional clinical schools, the number of students – undergraduate and graduate entry – receiving their training within the School of Rural Health has grown immensely. The number of medical students placed within the school in 2012 is 703 while there have been 7,549 placements since 2003. John Togno, David Campbell and Gordon Whyte elaborate on how this was achieved, while former medical student Ryan Spencer and current students Elyssia Bourke and John Clark give their perspectives of the clinical training they received. Geoff Solarsh’s chapter explains the establishment of the Northern Victoria Regional Medical Education Network, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, and the innovative medical training programs they run.

John Humphreys’s chapter, which reviews research activity, is as rigorous and thorough as could be expected from Australia’s pre-eminent rural health researcher. He details the consistent and methodical growth in research output and elaborates on many of the highlights of the past 20 years.

Another important stream of activity for rural health at Monash has been Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Marlene Drysdale established the Indigenous Health Unit in 2002 and led it until 2011. During that period the unit had remarkable successes which included providing cultural training for staff and students across the faculty, completing major research projects and introducing a process for enhanced recruitment and support for Aboriginal students. Marlene writes of these developments and the recognition and use of the unit’s principles to establish the School of Indigenous Health.

I have written about the school’s development from an administrative perspective. In a short period of time the organisation grew from a small department, unnoticed by central administration, to a $30 million school that made the headlines.

Judi Walker’s feet have barely touched the ground since her appointment as head of school in late 2010. Judi writes of the merger of the Gippsland Medical School with the School of Rural Health and how this has been achieved. In the final chapter Judi looks back on the history and how it is reflected in the current School of Rural Health and what promises it holds for the future.

The 20 years from 1992 have seen a wave of changes in rural health, commencing as recognition of the issues and building in strength and momentum as solutions have been formulated and implemented. Rural health at Monash University has been surfing this wave from the beginning and the following pages relive that ride.

Robert Clough

The first 20 years of the School of Rural Health




Centre for Rural Health established


Bendigo division established

Bendigo Primary Care Clinic transferred from Monash Community Medicine to Centre for Rural Health


Move from Moe to Traralgon


Position of Professor of Rural Health Research established


School of Rural Health established

Rural clinical school funding approved

Mildura Regional Clinical School established

Bendigo Regional Clinical School established

Gippsland Regional Clinical School established

East Gippsland Regional Clinical School established


Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Studies in Rural Health established

Roger Strasser departed for Canada

Elaine Duffy acting head of school


Elaine Duffy departed for Canada

John Humphreys, Gordon Whyte acting heads of school


Nick Saunders acting head of school

Geoff Solarsh commenced as head of school


Northern Victoria Regional Medical Education Network (NVRMEN) established

Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health (MUDRIH) superseded the Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Studies in Rural Health

Gippsland Medical School established


Gordon Whyte head of school


Judi Walker commenced as head of school


Centre for Research Excellence in Rural and Remote Primary Health Care established

Gippsland Medical School and School of Rural Health amalgamated


Twentieth anniversary of School of Rural Health


Map of Victoria showing the School of Rural Health sites and the community placement sitesThe School of Rural Health’s footprint in 2012.

Clough, Robert. 2012. ‘Preface’, in From a Broom Cupboard: 20 Years of Rural Health at Monash University, edited by Clough, Robert. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. Pp. XIX–XXIII

From a broom cupboard: 20 years of rural health at Monash University

   by Robert Clough, editor