Megan Hardie has seen the growth – and the benefits – of the Rural Clinical School from both sides; firstly as a student in the school’s early years and now as an RCS Medical Co-ordinator in the wheatbelt centre of Narrogin, 192 kilometres south-east of Perth.
Raised on a farm at Wickepin, which is less than 40 kilometres from Narrogin, Megan was in the class of 2004; but for her year of RCS, she preferred a distinctly different regional setting – Broome, in Western Australia’s far north.
It sounded like a really good opportunity – not only the medicine but the lifestyle and the chance to see a different type of rural Western Australia,” she says.
“In particular, I really enjoyed the exposure to Aboriginal health in the Kimberley.
“We covered the same areas of the curriculum that the Perth students did, but in a rural setting. For example, we travelled around the Kimberley with orthopaedic surgeons to Derby, Halls Creek, Kununurra and sat in on the clinics and assisted in surgery.
“In general practice and general medicine we spent quite a lot of time in the Aboriginal Medical Service in Broome and visiting clinics at Bidyadanga or Beagle Bay, and we would often see patients before the GP, or the GP would see them with us.
“Another benefit was the continuity.
“I remember seeing a patient in obstetrics, being with them for their labour and the delivery of their child, and then seeing them frequently in the community throughout the year, so I saw the baby growing in the months that followed.
“As another example, sometimes you would see people in the GP setting and then again in the hospital setting, and then you might follow them up with a visiting specialist.”
Apart from the medicine, Megan also enjoyed another significant benefit of RCS … a benefit that endures today in the camaraderie that developed among her cohort of 2004.
She was one of six students in Broome: one has left medicine, but the others remain in close contact as they continue their careers.
“We went on lots of camping trips and trips to the beach and things like that, as you do when you’re living in Broome.
“We also got to know our doctors and teachers so much better. Apart from seeing them socially, I remember a couple of doctors where we would usually go to their house for tutorials or they would come to our house.
“It was a lot closer relationship than the typical university setting.”
Megan’s year of RCS did not set her future in rural and remote medicine – that had more to do with her partner being a farmer. However, it did help her identify the areas of medicine in which she wanted to gain more experience.
After graduation and her internship at Fremantle Hospital, where she also completed a further year of adult medicine (including an RMO placement back in Broome working in the hospital and the Aboriginal Medical Service) she completed her DRANZCOG training and took up practice at Boddington in 2009.
“I returned to this area because my husband is a farmer near Wandering. Then in 2010 I went to Narrogin in private general practice and working at the hospital in obstetrics, emergency and in-patients as well.
“I had a little bit to do with the medical students that year before I took on the formal role as a medical co-ordinator with the Rural Clinical School in 2011.”
With a four-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, Megan’s recent years have been a mix of part-time teaching and part-time practice.
And while Narrogin may be geographically and culturally a world away from the Kimberley region, when she reflected on her time in Broome for this story, Megan said it had given her a greater understanding of the challenges of medical practice in Western Australia.
“I have come back very close to where I started and people here do not feel the remoteness of distance from Perth if they have to go to hospital or see a specialist, whereas the remoteness of the Kimberley stood out.
“I know from my own experience as an RCS student that even for those who are not going to practise rurally, it gives you a better understanding of what those people are going back to. RCS is an incredible opportunity; it helps make university a good well-rounded experience.”