Groundbreaking rural medicine program celebrates 10 years

Notre Dame students outside the Merredin District Hospital
as part of the Rural and Remote Health Placement Program.

11 March 2014

A world first medical education program developed by The University of Notre Dame Australia, which is closing the gap between rural and remote Australian communities and future doctors, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Wednesday 12 March 2014.

This occasion will be marked by four simultaneous 'Thank You' dinners in the Wheatbelt towns of Cunderdin, Kellerberrin, Merredin and Narrogin. Each Shire will be presented with an appreciation certificate for their community's contributions to the Rural and Remote Health Placement Program (RRHPP).

The core focus of the RRHPP is to develop medical students' understanding of, and empathy for, the health needs of rural and remote Australians. The program is unique in that medical students learn about regional health issues in a real-life context from regional families, Shires and community organisations which are recognised by the University as expert teaching partners.

Since graduating in 2009, Dr Pallas O’Hara has been working in remote communities in the Northern Territory

"This program is a world first in that Notre Dame is the only medical school that asks rural people and rural communities to actively participate with us in educating medical students," Head of Population and Preventive Health at Notre Dame's School of Medicine in Fremantle, Professor Donna Mak, said.

"The aim of this program is to get doctors 'out bush', and to develop medical professionals who are sensitive to the health needs of rural Australians and prepared to work in areas of unmet need."

Such is the success of the program, it was recognised with an 'Award for Programs that Enhance Student Learning' at the Australian Government's Office of Learning and Teaching Awards for University Teaching held in November 2013.

Third year Medicine student, Adrian Cois, undertook his RRHPP placement in Cunderdin in 2012. He is now undertaking a one-year practicum placement in Geraldton through the Rural Clinical School – a collaboration between the University of Western Australia and Notre Dame.

"Being involved with country people, hearing their stories and sharing their experiences was a lot of fun and extremely rewarding," Adrian said.

Dr Pallas O'Hara undertook her RRHPP placement in Kellerberrin in 2005 and graduated from the School of Medicine in 2009. Since then, she has been working in remote communities in the Northern Territory.

"I wouldn't have considered working rurally or remotely without early rural exposure as a medical student. Since then, I've worked in many remote and Aboriginal communities and loved every minute of it," Dr O'Hara said.

Professor Mak said the program taught medical students the importance of service and the ethical and personal aspects of delivering health care – something which cannot be achieved by academics and course books alone.

"I am extremely appreciative of the communities and families of Cunderdin, Kellerberrin, Merredin and Narrogin for opening their hearts and homes to our medical students over the past 10 years," Professor Mak said.

"Without their continued support and participation, the RRHPP program would not exist."

The Schools of Medicine in Fremantle and Sydney are holding information sessions for prospective students on Sunday 23 March 2014. Information will be available on the four-year Graduate Entry Medicine (MBBS) degree, as well as the Pre-Medicine Certificate. For further details, please visit:


Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;