Rural students, rural doctors

Did living rurally encourage or discourage you from entering medicine?

“I think I’d like to do something in the health field. A paramedic,” I said, before dropping my gaze and shyly adding, “or maybe even a doctor.”

My teacher looked me over as I clutched my books to my chest, wistfully thinking of the possibility of becoming a doctor. He didn’t ask my motivations, explore where I wanted to go or how I wanted to get there. He didn’t explain the possible pathways I could take. He simply suggested, “maybe you should try something easier.”

Something easier.

My childhood was spent in a fruit-growing region against the backdrop of a decades-long drought. It was devastating for so many, with farmers struggling and businesses closing. For some, financial woes slowly developed into physical and mental illnesses. And still everyone worked tirelessly, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. I saw it in my own family, with my dad, a labourer and my mum, a mechanic, working as hard as they could to provide opportunities for my sisters and myself.

I witnessed the courage in my community as people rallied to increase and improve community events, especially children’s events. As one of the lucky kids that got to enjoy things like learning circus skills, I was taught that even in trying times, it’s important to enjoy the moment, do a cartwheel if you can, and then focus on the future.

It was a childhood spent in those conditions that instilled my desire to become a doctor. The foremost place to encounter pain, and the need for resilience and hope, is in a doctor’s office. As a patient is delivered bad news, the heartbreak is obvious. But often subtly, unexpectedly present is hope. I wanted to be a part of that, that incredible part of humanity, that I had lived with throughout my childhood. Not to mention, Dr Tickle’s got a nice ring to it.

The plan had always been paramedicine after leaving school, do that for a few years, then work my way into medicine if I could. It never occurred to me that it would be possible any other way. You see, while that teacher was the only person that ever tried to actively discourage my pursuit of medicine, no one else ever actively encouraged me either, and I think that’s worse.

Medicine was not a possibility that was presented to me and I have to wonder, how many of my classmates dismissed their ideas because they were never talked about? Did the boy I sat next to in English have a dream to become an air force pilot, but instead became a tradie because that’s what ­­­­we talked about in careers class?

Growing up in a rural town instils values of tireless hard work, dedication, and community – critical to the development of a good medical student, and hopefully, a great doctor. But it doesn’t show us the way.

Courses such as medicine should be discussed and encouraged for rural students. In an era where we are constantly bombarded with issues of rural doctor shortages, current solutions are extra rural placements for all medical students. Perhaps a more suitable solution is adequately equipping rural students to become those doctors.

Monash has a terrific initiative to help even the playing field. The Dean’s Rural List ensures 25% of students who receive interviews are from a rural background. But I found out about that on my own, as I was applying. I wasn’t told about these measures that had been put in place to encourage rural students. Instead of finding “something easier,” we should be provided with helpful information to enable our pathway into medicine.

We need rural doctors now more than ever. I know where I want to practise, because I’ve had the privilege of living with the benefits of rural life. The more we encourage students with similar motivations, the more success we will have in reducing the doctor shortage. If our rural doctors are from the towns they’ll be working in, they’ll already be equipped with strong community relations, and intimate knowledge of specific barriers to health.

Every individual has such unique and wonderful motivations for pursuing medicine and coming from a rural town can make it difficult. But difficult should not mean impossible. Difficult should be encouraged.

Maddy Tickle grew up in Cardross, a small town just out of Mildura. Currently in second year, she is looking forward to her clinical years as part of the Extended Rural Cohort.


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