On November 18, UNSW’s Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus was buzzing. The first group of students to complete the full Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine program end-to-end at a rural campus were celebrating the end of their studies.

“I am honoured to be standing alongside my peers on our final day here at the Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus,” said Dr Mary Bouwer, who spoke at the graduation ceremony on behalf of her fellow students.  

Addressing Australia's healthcare needs

This comes six years after UNSW commenced Year 1 and 2 (Phase 1) of the medicine program at the Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus in 2017. Growing a sustainable rural and regional medical workforce is a priority for UNSW, in a time where Australia is experiencing critical shortages in these areas.  

“It was the first time that a Group of Eight university offered a full medicine program to students in rural and regional Australia – delivered from, importantly, a rural campus,” said Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President of UNSW.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” said Professor Adrienne Torda, who is the Vice Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health, and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine. “Working and training in a rural or regional area – the students see what the gaps are and where the healthcare needs of the Australian communities are.”

Benefiting from experience in a rural community

A diverse group came together in 2017 to pursue their medical studies at the Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus. Some of the students were local to Port Macquarie, with others from across NSW and Victoria. They came from a variety of backgrounds including politics, nursing and boiler making, and covered a 30-year age range from 17-46 years old. What united them was an interest in working with rural and regional communities.

“The community that you become involved with is something that is really important to continue with throughout your career,” said Dr Priyanka Schuetz, one of the graduates who also grew up in Port Macquarie. “The experience I had during these last six years has definitely set me up well for a career in rural medicine.”

According to the students, there were other distinct advantages to studying medicine in a rural setting.

“In rural areas, you get greater access to senior doctors across all specialties and across general practice,” said graduate Dr Sam Browning. “This gives you a really unique insight into rural lifestyle and practice.”

UNSW’s inaugural group of medical graduates from the Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus. Photo: UNSW. Not applicable

What’s next for the Class of 2022?

Of the 16 graduates, 10 are going on to complete internships in regional Australia. Their destinations include Bunbury, Wagga Wagga, Orange, Dubbo, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Newcastle, as well as Sydney and Darwin.

“We’ve grown from medical students into soon to be doctors and established lifelong friendships,” said Dr Mary Bouwer. “Ready or not, we’re about to spread our wings into the wide world of internship and a little bit of Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus will be spread all around the country from Darwin to Bunbury, Sydney to the Central West.”

IMAGE CAPTION: UNSW’s Port Macquarie Rural Clinical Campus. Photo: UNSW.