Big boost: First sod turned at new rural health education facility

Doctors-to-be will be given the chance to live and learn in brand new educational facilities in Shepparton from 2022.

The first sod was turned on the University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health’s $6.5 million building to house student accommodation and expanded teaching spaces on Thursday.

The building will provide accommodation for 30 more students, increasing the total number of beds on the campus to 96, and will help house a batch of students coming from La Trobe University as part of the Federal Government’s Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network.

Students who successfully complete a three-year undergraduate Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical) at La Trobe’s Bendigo or Albury-Wodonga campus will gain guaranteed entry into the University of Melbourne’s Doctor of Medicine postgraduate program in Shepparton.

Student Emily Bugeja, who is from Clonbinane, said being able to live on-campus was a huge benefit to her study.

“During undergrad I was commuting into Melbourne every day,” she said.

“I’m sick of V/Line . . . being able to live here with the hospital across the road and the classes here is the biggest relief.

“It allows me to focus on studying medicine and getting the most out of the community and it gives you more time to immerse yourself in opportunities here.”

Fellow student Jas Singh welcomed La Trobe University and Melbourne University cooperating to help provide the pathway from undergraduate to postgraduate studies.

“It’s good having collaboration,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter where you do (the courses) you’re going to end up as doctors at the end of the day.”

Nurse Georgia Hunt is another who will benefit from the education facilities and said the benefits of having students live and learn regionally were high.

“It’s great for the area for people to come try the area because if they’re anything like me they’ll love it here. It ticks every box,” she said.

“Having worked at Murchison they always struggle for doctors and have to have them come from Melbourne so they stay here.

“Regional doctors build a rapport and trust and doctors become the heroes around here and that’s my aim.”

La Trobe University’s Provost of the College of Science, Health and Engineering, professor Robert Pike said the idea for connecting the La Trobe course in Bendigo and Albury had been floated in 2017 and was pleased to see it come to fruition.

“We had to work out what you’re trying to achieve which is more doctors in rural areas,” he said.

“We put inter-university politics aside and, actually working out what you need to do to achieve that - by having rural kids in rural areas and regional areas and staying there.”

University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health professor Julian Wright said regional Australia was a “vast untapped resource” for education and was also in dire need of more medical professionals.

“This region especially we’ve got massive local need for procedure and general practice doctors to work as GPs, deliver babies and work in emergency departments,” he said.

“Having students who have graduated stay in the region rather than having to go to Melbourne is really important.”

University of Melbourne Head of the Melbourne Medical School, Professor John Prins echoes Prof Wright’s sentiments.

“COVID has done us a favour – it’s also done us a lot of harm – but it’s accelerated the idea you can work from anywhere, everybody’s starting to think differently about this and I think regional centres are going to be much closer now,” he said.

This article first appeared in Shepparton News, 4th March 2021