From camping to C-sections, students experience all rural life has to offer on summer Bush Bursary placements
29th January 2024
By Ashlyn Brown
Beautiful Bega hosted Bush Bursary students over the uni holidays
University summer holidays are for camping and C-sections for some 48 medicine and nursing students set to head to country NSW for their Rural Doctors Network (RDN) Bush Bursary and Country Women’s Association (CWA) Scholarship placements. With students describing their two-week placements as “life altering”, it’s no wonder they are excited to spend their summer holidays elbow deep in rural life!
The RDN Bush Bursary program receives funding from Councils and the CWA to provide financial support to students to undertake a two-week placement during their university holidays. Selected medical, midwifery, and nursing students in NSW and the ACT are provided with $1,500 to assist with the costs, allowing the opportunity for immersion in rural life - both in and outside the clinical setting. Bursary recipients are paired up by RDN, giving them the opportunity to network with local health professionals and community members, as well as connect with their fellow student.
Third year medicine students Nathan Djohan and Deepthi Kramadarhi recently returned from their placement in Moruya on the NSW south coast, which they said was “incredible from start to finish.”
“Learning about rural medicine and healthcare and sharing stories and making connections with people…we were blown away by the generosity of the local community and people.
“We loved our Bush Bursary experience not only for an opportunity to experience rural healthcare but also for the agricultural, culinary and community attractions the region had to offer,” said Nathan.
Multidisciplinary placements offering hands-on experience
Bush Bursary placements are designed to give students the opportunity to shadow a range of rural health practitioners including general practitioners, physiotherapists, paramedics, mental health nurses, sonographers, obstetricians, paediatricians, family planning nurses and Aboriginal health workers, to name a few.
First year medical student at the University of Notre Dame, Dominic Russell, recently completed his placement in Bega, which he says left him with “a profound appreciation for the intersection of compassionate healthcare, community engagement, and the beauty of rural living”.
Originally participating in an RDN Go Rural student road trip, Dominic’s journey in rural medicine has been heavily defined by his rural immersion opportunities.
“This experience has left an indelible mark on my professional journey, shaping my commitment to patient-centred and community-driven rural healthcare practices,” said Dominic.
“As a result of this experience, I would seriously consider moving and practicing in the Bega community. I will be singing my praises of this beautiful place and will no doubt be back again!”
The unique nature of rural healthcare allows students to participate in hands-on experiences that they may not normally have in a metropolitan setting. For Dominic, that included assisting in the delivery of a baby on the maternity ward at Bega Hospital, which he said was “one of the most powerful and memorable experiences of my whole life.”
“Witnessing and participating in various medical procedures, from minor interventions like sutures to major surgeries such as C-sections and laparoscopic cholecystectomies, provided me with invaluable insights into rural healthcare.
Engagement in critical activities like ventilating and bagging patients, as well as conducting venipunctures, significantly broadened my clinical skills,” said Dominic of his experiences at Bega Hospital and Sapphire Coast Medical Centre.
Current medical student at the University of Notre Dame Jareth Head was placed in Bourke and also spoke to the invaluable hands-on experience.
“As someone interested in rural and remote healthcare but lacking experience, this placement has taught me a lot about the difficulties facing healthcare delivery as well as the many wonderful opportunities for learning and genuine connection that exist in a community such as Bourke.”
“The clinic days afforded some valuable clinical exposure, and the days spent out in community showed me the importance of relationship-building and consistency in any attempt to improve health engagement and outcomes,” Jareth said of his experience in Bourke.
Holistic training in a welcoming environment
Students often find the generalist nature of rural healthcare to be an exciting and holistic form of medicine that allows them to experience a range of procedures, as well as witness and learn from the broad scope of knowledge of rural healthcare providers.
“Encounters with cases ranging from scarlet fever in a paediatric ward to issues of geriatric anxiety, oncology support, and eye emergencies showcased the diverse healthcare needs within rural communities” said Dominic.
A rural immersion wouldn’t be complete without showcasing all that country life has to offer outside of the clinical setting, and students have been vocal in their appreciation for the renowned country hospitality of their host towns.
Medical student at the University of New England, Allison Bicknell, recently completed her placement in Cowra and Canowindra, shadowing long-time Bush Bursary host and RDN Board Member Dr Ros Bullock. Originally from Brisbane, Allison had been working as a police officer in Armidale for the last twelve years before deciding on a career change focused on rural medicine.
“The kindness and connectedness of people in rural areas are some of the key reasons I am so interested in pursuing a career in rural health, and these two weeks have only served to further solidify this passion,” Allison said.
“Outside of the amazing clinical exposure, we spent the evenings sharing delicious meals, talking about the benefits of living and working in rural areas.”
Deepthi Kramadarhi also reflected this sentiment for his time in the rural coastal town of Moruya, “I admired the generous hospitality of the communities I visited, the easy going and welcoming nature of the people I met as well as the beautiful beaches and coastal hikes I did in my leisure.”
Diana Barez was placed in Edwards River and particularly enjoyed the social and community events that the town welcomed the students to, including a cruise of the Edward River, Jazz Night, a weekly doctors dinner, lawn bowls, a community festival and a full town Christmas party!
“The whole town came out for this end of year celebration, so it was a great opportunity to see all age groups and sects of the Deniliquin community come together. The fireworks and food stalls were icing on the top,” Diana said.
“Having less traffic and more natural scenery was an added bonus that made the day-to-day work schedule calmer and more pleasant.”
From participating in community events such as camping, farming, meeting Santa Claus, surfing, horse racing, picnicking atop the Perry Sandhills, swimming in the Murray River and visiting the Aboriginal Brewarrina fish traps, Bush Bursary placements ensure students experience the full breadth of living out in the bush!
Building the rural health workforce of tomorrow
RDN’s Future Workforce Manager, Chris Russell says that the Bush Bursaries provide an immersive and positive experience, showcasing a range of clinical experiences serving rural communities.
“This exposure at an early stage of their careers helps affirm that rural medicine is the path to take, and encourages them to practise rurally in the future,” said Chris.
“In a survey* of health students, of the respondents who had an opportunity to participate in a short-term placement such as a Bush Bursary placement, 85 per cent told us that they intended to work or train rurally in the future and this was significantly influenced by their placement.”
Placed in Nyngan, nursing student Cynthia Stewart and medicine student Bernadette Phillips, exemplified the impact of rural immersion experiences for students in encouraging their endeavours to practice out in the bush.
“After our time in Nyngan we both had a huge sense of achievement and confidence that going rural with our future careers is the right path for us. We also found it hard to leave and say goodbye to the medical centre, locals, and each other, as this program made it feel like Nyngan was our home,” said the pair.
Bernadette and Cynthia on placement in Bogan Shire
Cynthia said her experience with a local sonographer reaffirmed her desire to practice nursing and midwifery in a rural setting. For Bernadette, it was the evident need for permanent doctors in the country to establish stable doctor-patient relationships that confirmed her desire to become a rural generalist.
*Survey conducted by The National Rural Health Student Network (NRHSN) of their student members in July 2021, which received 514 responses.
Applications for the 2024 Bush Bursary and Country Women's Association Scholarships will open later this year. Further information about the program can be found on the RDN website here, or by subscribing to our Student Opportunities Update newsletter.
- Medical students passionate about our little towns (Australian Rural and Regional News)
- Bush Bursary Program (Wentworth Shire Council)
- A taste of rural practice (Deniliquin Pastoral Times)