Get to know your College: Jacqui Michalski – Flinders University Rural Health SA (Mt Gambier)

Jacqui Michalski is the Program Administrator for the Parallel Rural Community Curriculum program in the Greater Green Triangle region which includes the South East of SA and into Western Victoria. She works closely with our third year MD students who spend their whole year of medicine in the rural region. First and foremost, she looks after their wellbeing, organises all their teaching (working closely with the Clinical Educators) and ensures the local administrative coordination of the program. Another important aspect of her role is to develop and maintain the many and varied community partnerships and relationships, as well as those with hospitals and clinic staff. The PRCC team also supports any nursing and allied health students who come to the area for short-term placements.

What do you value most about working at Flinders? Hands down, it’s the unique relationships I am able to develop each year with our students. They are at the forefront of all we do and I do become very attached to them. I feel like I’m on their journey with them each year, and we share all of the ups and downs. Also we have fabulous supportive rural staff and I really value their constant guidance, support and friendship.

What are the benefits of working in a rural location? I am born and bred in the Mt Gambier area. A huge benefit for me is the fact that I live out of  town on 24 acres and it still only takes me a little over 10 minutes to get to work each morning. Wherever I go I can easily find a park (all free). Living here has enabled us to raise two boys with plenty of space and freedom: they’ve had horses, motorbikes, pet chooks, dogs, cows, had a go at every sport known to man, climbed trees, lit bonfires, spent all day outside running wild … and had plenty of trips to the local ED along the way.

The community engagement and networking when you have lived in a rural town for so long is a very valuable and powerful tool that I utilise in my work.

How important is Flinders to your community? Our students and staff really immerse themselves in the community via volunteering, playing sport, engaging in the arts and music, and sitting on committees. This networking is invaluable – in rural communities, locals are inquisitive and always want to know where you’re from and what are you doing here! Students are warmly welcomed into their communities and there are many locals keen to support them. We engage local community members in our teaching as standardised patients and panel members for our Rural Sub Quota interview process. We run ‘long cases’ with real patients who never cease to amaze me with their eagerness to assist, despite their complex health issues, and support the students in their learning.

What were the biggest professional challenges during the pandemic? Trying to keep a cool and in control persona in front of the students was challenging! We spent a lot of time behind the scenes ensuring that we were able to provide them with stable support, even though things were changing every hour of each day. We had two students located in Hamilton (Victoria) who were unable to attend face-to-face study days, so arranging for them to return to SA was problematic. I have at least six students whose families are located in Victoria, including one whose husband is stuck over the border and so he can’t see his children. This has been another layer of stress for the students. Ensuring their rural experience and learning continued even through the really unknown early days was very challenging. This is where the relationships we have with our clinics, hospitals and clinicians really came to the fore. I have asked a lot of our clinics and hospitals this year and they have all bent over backwards to assist the students, and always ensured that they placed the students’ health and wellbeing at the forefront of everything they did. I feel like this entire year has been about putting out spot fires on a daily basis. It’s definitely a year I’ll never forget!

What have been some of your proudest moments at Flinders? Seeing my students graduate brings a tear to my eyes every year. I see the blood, sweat and tears that go into their journey and it makes me so proud to think I’ve had a small part to play in helping them along the way. Plus this year I cannot believe what we have achieved during the pandemic: our entire program was totally upended and months of work had to be modified to online within a week. I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants for a while trying to provide the best possible program without disadvantaging the students. Our student support team across all rural SA sites have been outstanding in pulling together and putting our students first and I am really proud of the way we have handled this year.

Tell us something about yourself others may not know: I used to show horses and have won and placed at the Adelaide Royal Show. However after many, many years the 4:30am starts got the better of me. Plus as I got older, when I fell off I didn’t bounce back up like I used to.

What’s one thing you couldn’t live without? My family of course … but this year has also reinforced how important my friends are – I really struggled with not seeing them during COVID and it made me realise how much they contribute to my wellbeing. Plus wine! Wine and friends go together.

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