Flinders University Rural Health SA: Virtual Rural Day – 4 May 2020

Rural GP Dr Scott Lewis from Wudinna was called to casualty while out on his tractor, and it proved the quickest way to get to hospital at the time!

Each year FURHSA hosts ‘Rural Day’ to provide an opportunity for Year 1 MD students to visit a rural SA location and meet with rural GPs, Rural Health SA staff and PRCC students. The day provides an opportunity for the Year 1 cohort to get to know each other better, and to learn first-hand about opportunities for them to ‘go rural’ during the MD course. This year, of course, things had to be a little bit different. The biggest challenge was how to create a rural experience for people who were still in their urban locations.

The organising committee’s solution was to develop a three-hour online program with engaging content that would showcase the extent of the College’s activities around South Australia. This is where the benefits of a virtual event really became evident: the 150 student participants heard from 30 staff and students who joined online from a multitude of locations.

The event began with an Acknowledgement of Country by Donna Quinn, a Lecturer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health based in the Riverland. Donna spoke about the interconnectedness of our communities and provided some insights about the deep feelings and attachments that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share for the country.

Rural Day also featured presentations from three Rural SA General Practitioners from as far afield as Clare and Wudinna who recounted their experiences of working in rural settings, and the drivers that led them there in the first place. For a Rural GP, presenting online is increasingly normalised, perhaps even more so given the increase in telehealth consultations, and these sessions provided a realistic example of what a normal workday might include for future rural doctors.

The College’s four PRCC Administrators also provided their perspectives of rural placements, Darryl Cameron spoke on behalf of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Program and, perhaps most importantly, there were presentations by an amazing panel of ten 4th year PRCC 2019 students and two current Kangaroo Island PRCC students.

Dr James Padley (Clinical Educator, Rural Training Pathway), who facilitated this year’s Virtual Rural Day, noted that, “The team had never run an online session with so many participants before, so were going out on a limb. But we were assured that Collaborate was well supported, and we went for it! It paid off with a fantastic, well-run and engaging three hour virtual ‘conference’ that included interactive Q+A sessions with students and rural doctors.

We had to make some sacrifices. For example, we were unable to hold some practical skills stations as we had done previously, but we made it up with engaging presenters from the university team, students, and practitioners.”

Kathryn Sylvia (Rural Liaison Officer, Flinders Rural Health South Australia) embraced the challenge of leading the organisation of the event. “Being able to inform students about the opportunities that come with a rural placement is easily the biggest joy of my job. To watch them move from consideration to application and then see them grow both personally and professionally during their placements always consolidates the importance of this opportunity. Virtual Rural Day was also a chance to virtually connect everyone in these uncertain times, and for rural doctors to pass on valuable learnings and wisdom to the next generation of medical professionals.”

Virtual Open Day 2021 is still a long way off, but the organising committee is already planning how to best maximise the opportunities that a blend of face-to-face and online offers. But what’s for certain is that the event will continue to provide each of the participants with a fulfilling experience.

“Rural Day isn’t only about providing information to year 1 students about the Flinders MD rural programs,” says James. “It’s also a chance to celebrate successes and to highlight the experiences of current and previous students in the PRCC. I was particularly proud of students who were keen to give back to their year 1 peers, and to so willingly give their time and advice. With such a great bunch of enthusiastic and knowledgeable people, the future of our rural health workforce is going to be in great shape.”

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