La Trobe University has officially opened three key buildings on the Bendigo Campus of the La Trobe Rural Health School – and has joined forces with Charles Sturt University to set up a cross-border regional medical school to overcome rural doctor shortages.
A $17.6 million building in Bendigo opened in May by the Federal Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Sharon Bird, serves as the base for health and human services teaching and research. The work of the Rural Health School also includes the University’s Albury-Wodonga, Mildura and Shepparton campuses.
An associated 200 bed student accommodation complex and dining hall was also opened by Minister Bird, part of a $76 million dollar project by the University and the Victorian and Australian governments. ‘This is an investment that will be returned ten-fold: through more students, more health professionals and ultimately better health for regional Australians,’ Minister Bird said.
Other components of the venture include a clinical teaching building which will be officially opened later this year and upgraded anatomy, physiology and dental facilities.
Overcoming skills shortages
Vice-Chancellor John Dewar said: ‘Our efforts in Bendigo and the new partnership with Charles Sturt University are central to our goal of ensuring that regional communities have access to a comprehensive range of courses that will help overcome skills shortages in the fields of health, medicine and other critical professional areas.
‘We already know that students who train in rural and regional areas are far more likely to remain and practice in those locations. Up to 80 per cent of regionally-trained health professionals tend to practice outside capital cities,’ he said.
La Trobe’s Bendigo Campus brings together a wide range of health professions. They include nursing, midwifery, dentistry, oral health, physiotherapy, pharmacy, occupational therapy, podiatry, speech pathology, paramedics, social work and public health.
‘They are proof our commitment to building healthy communities in partnership with regional Victoria,’ Professor Dewar said. These partnerships include Bendigo Health, Bendigo Community Health and smaller health services in north, central and west Victoria. ‘Through these La Trobe students have access to excellent practical training as part of their studies.’
Professor Dewar said La Trobe wants to help establish Bendigo – which will also play a major role in the proposed new Murray Darling Medical School – as a ‘major regional university city with an international reputation.’
Four-fold increase in students
Head of the Rural Health School, Professor Jane Farmer, said she was delighted to see the Bendigo building project come to fruition.
‘It’s wonderful that we now have here possibly the best and most up to date health education facilities in Victoria, allowing access to open, collaborative and stimulating learning.’
Professor Farmer said three years ago there were around 600 health and social work students on the Bendigo Campus. Today there are more than 2,300, and there were plans to extend course offerings and research.
Targeting the doctor shortage
With country students consistently under-represented in two-thirds of medical schools in Australia, Professor Dewar said the rural doctor shortage was the first target of La Trobe’s new tertiary education alliance with Charles Sturt University which was launched at the end of June.
‘The medical school would provide opportunities for rural students to study medicine without having to leave the regions for a city university,’ he said. ‘We want to take the success of James Cook University, which focuses on training doctors for northern Australia, and apply that in inland Australia.’
‘La Trobe and Charles Sturt are the largest regional tertiary education providers in New South Wales and Victoria. That gives us critical mass to complement our existing training of nurses, paramedics, dentists, pharmacists and allied health courses with the one missing link in the region – medicine.’
‘Most importantly, this is a solution developed for regional communities by regional communities. This is what I find most exciting,’ Professor Dewar said.