Rural, Regional and Indigenous Health program to expand


By Mardi Chapman

11 Sep 2023

Professor Benedict Devereaux

GESA has announced a second Rural, Regional and Indigenous Health Fellowship will be on offer in 2024.

The position, to be based at Alice Springs, builds on the success of the inaugural fellowship this year in Darwin and is supported by other components of the GESA Rural, Regional and Indigenous Health Program [link here].

Speaking to the limbic at AGW 2023, outgoing president Professor Ben Devereaux said he was pleased to have been able to deliver on his commitment made two years ago to strengthen GESA’s support for rural, regional and Indigenous Australians. 

“How do you achieve a big project? Do you have a think tank and a whiteboard and a business case and a pitch and hit a wall? Or do you just say this is important and we’re just going to do it? And so we just did it. We built the relationship with Alice, we built the relationship with NT Health and now we’ve got a much more robust infrastructure to actually make this work long term.”

Dr Richard Johnson, executive director of medical services at Alice Springs Hospital, told the limbic that the services the Fellows provide, the training and supervision they receive, and any research involvement have yet to be finalised. 

However it was likely that the two Fellows will gain experience at both sites given the differences in terms of the health system infrastructure but also in the patient population. 

“So roughly 25% of the Territory population are Aboriginal, but those proportions are different in the city and in Central Australia. There’s the southern two thirds of the Territory where it’s more like 40% and out in remote communities it’s over 90% and the diseases and stage of disease they present with is a different picture than a Caucasian population for example, or a city population,” he said.

Professor Devereaux said the Fellowships were aimed at people with an interest in gastroenterology and in regional, remote and Indigenous health. 

“What we can do is provide them with experience and because they’re in a smaller center, they’ll get a lot of clinical exposure across a broad spectrum of disease processes. And then GESA supports them with the Travelling Professor Program and with the Endoscopy Outreach Program so it’s an integrated system. This is the perfect opportunity for them.”

There is also the hope that the program will motivate people to consider working in regional and rural health in the long term. 

“As we all know, the more you expose trainees to remote Australia, the higher the likelihood is that you can recruit specialists down the track. It’s either those people going back or it’s people that they’ve inspired by word of mouth,” Dr Johnson said. 

Dr Bassem Ibrahim

Dr Bassem Ibrahim, the inaugural  Rural, Regional and Indigenous Health Fellow, told the limbic that his mother was a country GP moving regularly around much of regional New South Wales.

He knew he wanted to pursue medicine as a career and also wanted to be delivering medicine to the types of communities he had lived and grown up in.

“The tricky thing is that for a long time, it’s been difficult to be a trainee on a specialist training program who’s interested in regional health care…because the current models of training basically revolve around working and training in big tertiary hospitals.”

He said he saw the Rural, Regional and Indigenous Health Fellowship as a “dream job’ – combining his two passions of regional healthcare and specialist gastroenterology training. 

“It’s been a phenomenal year. Despite having lived and worked in regional areas, this job is like nothing I was expecting. It’s even further opened my eyes as to really how many issues we’re still facing in regional areas.”

Dr Ibrahim has taken on the Fellowship early in his training but suggests it might fit more easily for others towards the end of their training and provide the opportunity, hopefully, to stay on providing regular services to those same communities after they’ve finished their training.

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