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Outback beckons trainee doctor

Friday, 2nd January, 2009

Former local Josh Crase isn't your typical medical student. While most of his peers will end up working as GPs or specialists in large city hospitals or practices, Mr Crase is determined to take a different path. One that will see him working in an area that lags behind the rest of country when it comes to health outcomes: rural and remote Australia. "I couldn't be a GP in the city," said Mr Crase, who is entering his fourth and final year as a medical student at the University of Melbourne. The 28-year-old was awarded a Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship, which is given to students who are prepared to commit to at least six years of rural practice. That won't be a problem for Mr Crase, who "really likes" the idea of being part of a small team at a rural clinic, much like the one at Menindee where he has just finished a two-week placement. Mr Crase had only praise for the town's health staff and the work they performed with limited resources. "The nurses are extremely capable," he said. This was his fourth placement with the Greater Western Area Health Service (GWAHS). He has twice spent time in Wilcannia and also worked at Broken Hill. Because they do not form part of his university studies, Mr Crase has been funding his own placements. But this time around he received some financial assistance from the BH Contribution Fund. He singled out former Remote Cluster general manager Justin Ragenovich, current manager, Rod Wyber-Hughes, Professor David Lyle and Kevin Sinclair, secretary of the BH Contribution Fund, for their help. Mr Crase's rural experience hasn't been limited to far west NSW. He also does placements at the small town of Mareeba in northern Queensland through another scholarship. The former BH High School student, who describes himself as an advocate for rural health, is also a member of Melbourne University's Rural Health Club, which promotes the virtues of rural medicine and country living to students. Mr Crase, who is based at one of the university's rural clinical schools, said most of his fellow students would not have experienced life outside the city. "A lot of students at Melbourne (University) are from Melbourne with private school backgrounds," said the student, who lists Indigenous health as one of his major areas of interest, along with diabetes and obesity. Whenever students did venture out of the city and into the bush, they were pleasantly surprised. "Once they experience the place it's actually not that different," he said. "The lifestyle's a lot better. They are not as rushed and you probably have more time to spend with family and patients." Mr Crase said his own time spent in small clinics had opened his eyes to the challenges facing isolated communities, which mainly revolve around distance and access to services. But he said there were also advantages. "People support one another a lot more," said Mr Crase, who wants to train with the RFDS when he completes his studies and internship. "So when people are discharged from hospital they are followed-up well. "That sort of service doesn't exist in the city. So from that point of view small places have a big advantage." Medicine wasn't Mr Crase's first career choice. It would have been an option for the brilliant student who in 1997 scored a Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) of 99.65, the highest ever recorded by a local student. But he chose computer engineering. He studied at Adelaide University, where he received the university medal for topping the course and the Arvi Parbo Medal from Engineers Australia. A few years ago, despite carving out a successful career, Mr Crase decided he wanted to change paths, citing "parental health and my own health" as the reason behind his decision. Just getting into medicine was a lengthy process, according to Mr Crase, who has no regrets. "Once I was in I didn't look back."

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