Fourth-year medical student Ben Steiger bags a manikin during a clinical training exercise as part of his training at UQ Rural Clinical School.
Fourth-year medical student Ben Steiger bags a manikin during a clinical training exercise as part of his training at UQ Rural Clinical School. Contributed

Why rural med schools are keeping our doctors in the bush

WHOEVER said "you can take the boy out of the city but not the city out of the boy" did not reckon with the University of Queensland's Rural Clinical School.

Fourth-year medical student Ben Steiger grew up on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, but has discovered the beauty of Queensland's regional areas since enrolling in the school.

Mr Steiger moved to Hervey Bay to carry out his third year of medical schooling, and loved it so much he came back to finish his fourth year as well.

He said the experience had changed his views on country living, and now he was looking forward to going outside the city when he finished medical school.

"I initially decided to go through the Rural Clinical School because it allowed for more hands-on experience and a better ratio of students to teachers," he said.

"But I've really embraced fishing now, and see the benefits of a rural lifestyle.

"I'm definitely more inclined to come back to a rural area (when I graduate). It's not as busy, it's less expensive, there's less traffic - you realise there are a lot of positives that you might not have thought about before."

In fact, he's so convinced of the benefits that his girlfriend has quit her job in hospitality to move to the Fraser Coast, where she is studying nursing.

Mr Steiger's experiences are not uncommon, according to a study commissioned by the University of Queensland and published in the Medical Journal of Australia, which shows doctors who train in rural or regional areas tended to return there.

Professor Geoff Nicholson, head of UQ Rural Clinical School, who led the study with research director Associate Professor Srinivas Kondalsamy-Chennakesavan, said their research showed students from regional and rural backgrounds who did at least a year of their medical training at a rural clinical school were more likely to practise outside urban areas.

"The exposure to high-quality rural training at a rural clinical school enhanced the probability of that graduate practising rurally," Prof Nicholson said.

"The findings reinforce the need for medical schools to have a strong rural presence. Without it we run the risk of losing medical graduates to metropolitan areas."

UQRCS is one of the largest in Australia and has campuses in Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Toowoomba.

The Hervey Bay branch of the medical school has recently welcomed 18 students, including several returning fourth-years.

"Their decision to stay reflects the high-quality teaching they receive as well as the more relaxed lifestyle they enjoy here," said Dr Riitta Partanen, director of UQRCS Hervey Bay.

"Students value the one-on-one teaching they receive, which means not only do they receive personalised teaching, but also the patients in our hospitals are not inundated with medical students.

"There are many more learning opportunities than their city counterparts get, and many opportunities for them to become valued members of the local community.

"These positive influences encourage them to choose to remain or return as doctors, which enhances the sustainability and viability of rural healthcare services in our region."

More than 250 students have trained at the Hervey Bay branch since it opened in 2005.