Kimberley trip delivers country insights to Notre Dame’s future medics

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 2-10-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



Addressing the problems of recruiting and retaining medical staff in rural and remote parts of Western Australia is a key aim of the The University of Notre Dame Australia's Kimberley community placement.

Each year, about 100 students from the Fremantle School of Medicine move from the lecture theatre to spend one week in some of the most picturesque towns and outback communities in WA's far north.

Confronted with life on a pastoral station; the challenges of providing adequate Indigenous healthcare in country towns or the contrast between 'city' and 'country' life, the Kimberley placement provides second-year medical students with the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to remote-area communities in non-medical settings.

The initiative also endeavours to equip students with the necessary attitudes and life skills that are needed to live and work in a remote area.

"The Kimberley placement is one of Notre Dame's many initiatives aimed at encouraging future doctors to practice in rural and remote areas," said Professor Donna Mak, Head of Population and Preventive Health at the Fremantle School of Medicine.

"City people often view rural, remote and cross-cultural work as a 'challenge'. But there is a huge amount of joy and reward that comes with it.

"Doctors working 'out bush' have the opportunity to build up strong relationships with the communities in which they serve. In turn, these close working relationships can help rural doctors achieve greater success in terms of their patients' health."

Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery student Ros Forward experienced life as a journalist at Derby's local newspaper, The Muddy Waters.

Having worked in country WA for more than eight years as an occupational therapist, Ms Forward says the Kimberley placement solidified her career ambition to work 'out bush' as a rural general practitioner.

"The experience is really rewarding in the sense that we get to see how people outside of medicine work and think," Ms Forward said.

"As students, we get very caught up in our course. The Kimberley trip really helps all students to see how diverse people's lives are and what our work as potential doctors will have in a rural community."

Naresh Pereira moved from Melbourne to study Medicine at Notre Dame in order to receive a greater understanding of the Aboriginal culture and to work more closely with Aboriginal people.

Mr Pereira's placement was with the Yiriman Project, coordinated from the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre. He assisted Aboriginal elders from the Yarri Yarri community, two hours south west of Looma, with back burning and land clearing in preparation for potential summer fires.

"The Yiriman Project is a community-led program which aims to teach young people from the West Kimberley communities about their land, their culture and their law with the aim of reducing youth suicide and improving cultural awareness through the generations," Mr Pereira said.

"It was amazing to hear the stories, experience the rich culture and to work with some of the people in the community who live and prosper in remote Western Australia.

"In our studies, we come across many of the challenging aspects of what it might be like to live and work in remote environment. However, what I saw during my trip was the strength, determination and hard work of the Aboriginal people to preserve the spirituality and culture within their community which was really inspiring."

The Kimberley trip has been the catalyst for many Notre Dame graduates putting their knowledge and skills into practice at some of Australia's most remote communities.

Having been drawn to remote area medicine following her Kimberley placement, Notre Dame Medicine graduate Pallas O'Hara now calls the Northern Territory home.

Dr O'Hara is currently working as a GP in Nhulunbuy, located in East Arnhem at the top of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her working week is divided between the Aboriginal medical service, Miwatj Health, and the Gove District Hospital where she provides primary healthcare for people living in remote outstations, Indigenous communities and other small towns nearby.

"I have loved working in Indigenous medicine since my first introduction during medical school at Notre Dame. From a career perspective, the GPs working at the hospital were some of the broadest-skilled doctors I had ever met and their enthusiasm and capability was really inspiring," Dr O'Hara said.

"The best part about working in the country is the lifestyle. There is so much more time in each day; no rushing about and my feeling of belonging and sense of the environment in which we live is so much greater out of the big towns. On top of all that, the work is so challenging and diverse that it provides an excellent mix for me as a rural healthcare professional."

Since graduating from the School of Medicine in 2010, Rohan Carter has also been working in the field of Indigenous healthcare. Currently a GP Registrar at the Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service, Dr Carter said the Kimberley community placement convinced him that a career in rural medicine was the right choice.

"Medicine to me is not about the money or importance; it is about waking up each morning and being happy and content with myself," Dr Carter said.

"For me, the Kimberley trip highlighted the incredible skills of rural doctors in ethically and morally delivering essential healthcare to those who required it the most."

For more information about the courses on offer in the School of Medicine at The University of Notre Dame Australia please call (08) 9433 0228 or visit the School of Medicine, Fremantle.

MEDIA CONTACT: Michelle Ebbs: Tel (08) 9433 0610; Mob 0408 959 138 Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093