My sea change: why I chose a rural placement

25 June 2018 | Avinesh Chelliah, Avant Student Advisory Council Chair

When I first considered spending my fifth and sixth year at a rural campus, it seemed too far away, too long of a commitment, and too important a stage in my degree to take such a big risk.

However, I couldn’t discount the advantages. Having had my fair share of bedside tutorials with more students than the patient could count, I knew fewer students on the ward would offer a better learning environment. Add to that the doctors, theoretically, have more time to teach during their day and the opportunity for more hands-on experience, and this placement had a strong appeal.

After weighing up what was most important to me, I decided that if this made me a better doctor, it was worth moving out of my comfort zone. It would also give me the chance to explore whether being a rural doctor was for me and if it was a career path I wanted to pursue.

UNSW has four rural campuses for fifth and sixth years, and I was placed at Coffs Harbour. The appeal of coastal living and cheap flights, make it a popular choice for rural placements.

Commonly, on a main university campus, you’re one in a sea of students in every lecture theatre. One of the best aspects of a rural campus is the small number of students means staff get to know you personally. Clinical years can be challenging, stressful and at times overwhelming. Knowing that the person on the other side of the desk knows and cares about you as an individual is incredibly comforting.

Life outside the hospital has notable differences from the city too. Every shop, gym or restaurant is usually less than fifteen minutes away. This means you can fit in all three in the evening and still get enough sleep for ward rounds the next day. Some days, the time you save from travelling might be just what you need to reflect on things, practise mindfulness or meditate. If you’re looking for adventure on the weekend, neighbouring towns often have plenty of character and there might be a nearby national park to explore.

Involving yourself with the community is a great way to meet local residents and feel more at home in your new environment. Look out for local sport competitions or volunteering opportunities, which might also help you to get to know other students you’re placed with. In my experience, friends in the country quickly become like family and to share this significant journey with your peers is a real privilege.

There are so many reasons to take up a rural placement – many I hadn’t expected. I’m glad I took up the opportunity, not only because it will make me a better doctor, but because it has made me a happier medical student.

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