A person smiles and looks at the camera
Sarah Clark, recipient of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia’s Medical Student of the Year Award 2020

Sarah Clark (UNSW's Wagga Wagga Rural Clinical School) received the Rural Doctors Association of Australia’s (RDAA) Medical Student of the Year Award 2020 for her dedication to rural health.

Raised in Gunnedah in northwest NSW, Sarah plans to return to that region after the completion of her medical training to serve the rural communities there.

RDAA President, Dr John Hall, said: “Sarah is an exceptional student with a passion both for rural health and equitable access to healthcare for all Australians.

“At the end of last year, Sarah had the opportunity to complete an elective placement, and she spent half of this doing a general paediatric elective at the Alice Springs Hospital.

“The experience was instrumental in shaping her appreciation not only for Rural Medicine but exposed her first-hand to Indigenous Medicine and the specific challenges of isolated, cross-cultural practice.

“Prior to her Alice Springs elective, Sarah also undertook a solo task of raising money to purchase much-needed paediatric stethoscopes for the Alice Springs Hospital Special Care Nursery – demonstrating the high level of commitment she has for rural healthcare.

“On her return to Wagga, Sarah requested to undertake the majority of her General Practice rotation at Wagga Wagga’s Aboriginal Medical Service, providing a further opportunity to increase her understanding of local Indigenous Medicine and culture.

“While a student, Sarah has been actively involved in the Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) Rural Health Committee (including as Chair in 2020).

“Through this, she has met with numerous federal politicians; with the new National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Ruth Stewart and the previous Commissioner, Professor Paul Worley; and with senior representatives from the Federal Department of Health to champion the need for better access to healthcare for rural and remote Australians. “She was also involved in the co-ordination of the online campaign #GoRural2021 which aimed to increase the popularity and competitiveness of rural internship places in Australia.

“Within the Rural Clinical School, she has actively engaged with prospective students regarding medical school entry and training pathways, and mentored current students.

“She has engaged in local careers events, assisted in the organisation of local Women in Medicine evenings, and participated in the Rural Clinical School’s fundraising efforts for a number of local charities.

“Sarah has also displayed dedication to the wider medical community by completing various research projects concurrently through her studies, most recently working with local clinicians to undertake research investigating the sustainability of neonatal intensive care services in the Murrumbidgee region.

“When you consider all that Sarah is doing to promote careers in rural medicine, and to promote better access to healthcare for rural Australians, she is unarguably a highly deserving recipient of this Award. We warmly congratulate her on receiving it.”

Sarah said: “It’s an absolute honour to be receiving the RDAA Medical Student of the Year Award this year.

“It was my experience of growing up in Gunnedah and witnessing the town perpetually struggle to attract and retain GPs and other healthcare workers that first inspired me to go to medical school and strive to be a part of the solution to that problem.

“My involvement in AMSA Rural Health was instrumental in highlighting just how much of a national issue this is and how severely this is impacting rural communities all across the country. And then it was my clinical experiences in the latter half of my degree that opened my eyes to how I can meaningfully contribute to solving this problem.

“I love Rural Medicine because it is so wide and varied, and no day is ever the same. At this stage I am quite interested in Rural Generalism as my future career pathway because I enjoy the breadth and variety that Rural Generalism offers me as a career, while also being of maximum benefit to a community that needs you. And rural patients and their communities are just the best!

“I am very thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve had to contribute to the future of rural health as a student, and I’m excited to see what comes next in the rural health sphere as I move into the workforce in 2021.”

Sarah graduated from UNSW in 2020 and received an intern position in 2021 at John Hunter Hospital within the Hunter New England Local Health District. This is one of the largest health districts in NSW, encompassing her home community of Gunnedah and providing excellent opportunities for rural rotations in Tamworth, Taree, Armidale and Maitland hospitals.

She also plans to complete the Sydney Child Health Program – a graduate course aimed at providing a high level of integrated learning in Paediatrics.