The National Centre for Farmer Health in Hamilton, Victoria is breaking new ground in getting better medical services for rural and remote areas.
The centre has Victoria’s only regional placement in the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine’s (AFPHM) Specialist Training Program and is helping drive the future of rural health and wellbeing across the country.
NCFH director Dr Sue Brumby said a key part of the Specialist Training Program was about long-term sustainability of medical services by creating major shifts in government planning and public policy regarding rural areas.
Clinical associate professor Brumby said rural areas too often came at the end of the planning line because while they covered big areas, they also had smaller populations.
AFPHM president Dr Leena Gupta said it was vital for healthcare to have a process which worked with the broad brush of medicine – from prevention and a multi-disciplinary approach to health service studies and the health needs of a community.
“The increasing number of doctors involved in the program is helping produce better, and more relevant, studies to document some of the issues in services – or the lack of them,” Dr Gupta said.
“And this is often the case in rural areas,” she said.
“A key part of the Specialist Training Program is our graduates get involved in both public policy and ongoing research, with an overall aim of helping to improve the health of the whole community – and for the long term.”
This was all about planning to meet changing needs, which are influenced by factors such as distance, population and demographics.
Dr Mark Newell, who has an impressive track record in domestic and international medical research, is currently the only funded training position in public health medicine in Victoria and one of only a few in regional Australia.
Based at NCFH in Hamilton, Dr Newell said his position focused on targeted health promotion activities for farming families and communities.
He said this was consistent with increasing emphasis in State/Territory and Federal health programs on the importance of improving the health of people in regional and rural Australia.
Following stints in HIV research in Asia, medical practice in the UK and private practises in Bendigo in Victoria and Lismore in NSW, Dr Newell has strong rural connections.
“My father was a country doctor in Colac and I have always had a hankering for living in the country,” he said.
His work with NCFH at Hamilton will have a strong emphasis on primary producer and rural health, particularly in assessing issues faced by people in rural and remote locations for which there are few resources to assist, such as mental health, injury prevention and chronic diseases.
“This scheme is all about trying to bring health professionals to the people, and with the research bases such as I have here we will be able to help accurately measure producer conditions and needs,” he said.
“The underlying philosophy behind the scheme is to provide financial support for accredited specialist medical training in non-traditional settings, outside the larger metropolitan university teaching hospitals,” Dr Newell said.