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Optometry students thank outreach practitioner for inspiring them to work rurally

14th October 2021

Optometry students mentored by long-serving RDN outreach practitioner Kyriacos (Kyri) Mavrolefteros have credited him with galvanising their commitment to a future in rural health, saying his humility, skill and respectful relationship with communities was something they wanted to emulate in their careers.

JudyNam_OutreachStudent"Kyri, I will endeavour to follow in your footsteps and practice in remote locations," said Judy Nam, a fifth-year optometry student from NSW, who was mentored by Kyri earlier this year.

“To be able to provide healthcare to remote towns has been one of the most humbling experiences of my optometry degree and one that I endeavour to continue with throughout my career,” said fellow student Annie Thuc.

Kyri, an outreach optometrist with the RDN-administered Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS), has been mentoring students alongside RDN’s Outreach Student Placement Program. He considers it to be a fundamental part of his work as an outreach practitioner.

"For over 15 years now I have been spending over a quarter of the year in the NSW outback, seeing the same communities so regularly that they now consider me family.  The reality is, for many of the most vulnerable people in these more remote areas, even travelling 100km to Bourke to attend a clinic is too far.  So for the foreseeable future, we're going to need to have outreach practitioners come to them. Immersion experiences such those provided by RDN's Outreach Student Placement Program are an important step in ensuring there is a future steam of practitioners to do this work and I will do all that I can to support them."

The importance of rural student placements was highlighted in a recent literature review conducted by the National Rural Health Student Network (NRHSN), which found for students not of a rural or remote upbringing, exposure to rural health and communities throughout their clinical training is paramount in swaying them towards future rural careers. Their survey of short-term rural health placement participants found 85 per cent intended to work or train rurally in the future and this was significantly influenced by their placement. Clinical experience along with community and mentor engagement were extremely influential to future career intentions.

"We know that students who experience first-hand what working as a rural health practitioner is like are more likely to pursue a rural health career. That's why immersion programs like this are so critical," explains RDN's Senior Manager, Outreach Programs Claire O'Neill.

The RDN Outreach Student Placement Program provides up to 100 selected medical, nursing and allied health students in NSW/ACT each year with the opportunity to shadow an outreach provider in a rural or remote community. In May and June 2021, 35 students from medicine and allied health were placed for 1, 2 or 3 days in over 30 rural NSW towns including Bathurst, Broken Hill, Tamworth, Dubbo, Condobolin, Coffs Harbour, Moree, Walgett, Goulburn, Port Macquarie, Narrabri, Yass, Armidale, Canowindra and Wellington.  When asked how likely they were to pursue a career in rural health on a scale of 1 to 10, the average score was 9.

To find out more about rural student immersion experiences with visit the RDN student webpage.

Photo: Judy Nam, fifth-year optometry student, University of NSW

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