GROWing in so many ways

Three UQ students extend themselves in the GROW Rural immersion experience program

Chua Yee Tat with children at Woorabinda Chua Yee Tat with children at Woorabinda

Chua Yee Tat with children at Woorabinda

Chua Yee Tat with children at Woorabinda

GROW Rural is a one of a kind rural immersion experience aimed at attracting current health students to a rural career.

A total of 29 students from medical, nursing and allied health disciplines visit the Central Queensland communities of Woorabinda, Baralaba, Theodore, Moura and Biloela each year for three consecutive years. 

Students have the opportunity to experience comprehensive clinical practice and the unique lifestyle of remote and rural Queensland communities.

Chua Yee Tat: Bachelor of Pharmacy

GROW Rural was a dream I had which was reignited in 2005 after watching a Hong Kong drama “The Last Breakthrough” on television, where a group of doctors travelled to Kenya in Africa for medical relief with an organisation called Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders.

Ever since, I've been deeply inspired by the idea of participating in a mission to provide humanitarian emergency or peace-keeping medical services to a third-world country or rural setting.

I get excited at the thought of it, even though it can be dangerous or living conditions may be sub-optimal compared to my home country, Singapore.

Although GROW Rural is not as intense an experience as most situations that medical staff find themselves in with Médecins Sans Frontières – saving refugees from bombing in Syria or providing vaccinations for the whole village – it was the perfect stepping stone for me to know what I first need to understand and possess before I can work in such a setting, knowing the community, especially Aboriginal Torres Straits Islander (ATSI) people.

Through the annual trips with GROW Rural to the community in Woorabinda, I learned that without first building relationships with the community and understanding their culture, there is a high chance that people might not be willing to accept the medical service offered, even though much of it is of good will.

I vividly remember an anecdote by one of the doctors there on how she saw one of the new staff apparently ignored on purpose by the patient. He only wanted his usual attending physician to see him.

From that story, I realised how important having trust is with the people in the community and how delicate their relationships are with the world outside the community. I was amazed after speaking to one of the elders, knowing how and why they wish to be addressed as the First State People and feeling the pride they have in this identity. This cannot be taught, found or experienced from textbooks or the internet.

Contrary to life growing up in an urban setting, I got to witness how carefree and simple life is for the children in Woorabinda.

Even taking a selfie together, the children were awfully fascinated by the fact that the gadget I was holding in my hand allowed them to see themselves moving and smiling just like looking into a mirror.

However, this comes with a flip side to the story as to why we are facing a shortage of healthcare professionals in these communities.

I talked to one of the community elders who thought that, because of the limited world view of the children, it is very rare for them to have the ambition of becoming healthcare professionals. When asked what the children wanted to be when they grew up, many said they wanted to be horse riders.

I felt it a pity the kids didn't immediately think of health as a profession, as I could see how vital and important Indigenous healthcare roles are in contributing local knowledge to their communities. The locals know their culture best.

Another thing I loved about the trip was how all of us have come from different healthcare disciplines, and we get to work as a multidisciplinary team.

On the most recent trip, we ran a Teddy Bear Hospital health education program for children aged three to 12, with topics ranging from exercise to medication and poisoning safety.

Maginnis Connell: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

For me, the most valuable part of GROW Rural was not the health component, but the immersion into rural life.

Meeting a family from Moura, and having them welcome me instantly into their lives – puppies, cats and lambs included – was truly amazing. By spending the night with a local family, I was able to gain a first-hand experience of how the town and the local mine affected locals.

Coming from a city background of 'hiss, boo, mines are bad', it was great to be challenged by people whose way of life was sustained by the mines.

I suppose for me, being billeted to a local family made rural life less of an enigma and more of a real life option. It showed me that, as an occupational therapist, there are communities out there ready to welcome me with open arms.

Health simulations and workshops aside, the immersion in the community was what truly cemented my desire to work rurally.

On the first night of the GROW Rural program, we stayed at Myella Farm, a family-run farm-stay somewhere just left of the middle of nowhere.

Here, we had the opportunity to cuddle a joey kangaroo, milk a cow, and try our hand at whipping a whip and lassoing a fake bull. Suffice to say that I successfully lassoed myself and whipped myself many a time.

I should definitely leave the farming up to the farmers!

Parvati Dadwal: Doctor of Medicine

For any medical student wishing to explore rural medicine, the GROW Rural trip is a perfect opportunity to visit rural health services and facilities while undertaking clinical skill sessions. The 2018 GROW Rural trip was memorable in a way that I had never expected.

As part of the trip, GROW Rural students are hosted by local families. This year we stayed in Moura, a Queensland town of about 2000 people. My rural family included Ben, a 24-year-old who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age.

Cerebral palsy is a disability which affects movement and posture and can require multiple consultations with not only healthcare workers but other services such as education and employment.

In sharing our journeys, I was surprised to learn that someone as young as Ben preferred to live and work on a farm – a lifestyle that he valued over urban life. Like other families dealing with cerebral palsy, Ben and his family shared stories of toil and hardship, but also of love and acceptance. Through our conversations, I came to understand the clinical challenges Ben and his family face as a result of their decision to stay in Moura.

People living with disabilities in rural areas face difficulties that their peers seldom encounter in urban zones.

Even though rural residents generally experience barriers to access to primary health care, these problems are exacerbated for people with disabilities.

Ben deserves better.

GROW Rural provided me insight to what is often an invisible issue. The intersecting layers of vulnerability outline the urgent need for healthcare workers in rural areas.

More information GROW Rural, more images @HWQld.