Development of 'rural week' for medical students: impact and quality report.Rural Remote Health. 2005 Jul-Sep; 5(3):432.RR
The Rural Undergraduate Support and Coordination program funds medical schools to provide all medical students some time in rural Australia throughout their course. The University of Adelaide has developed a rural week program for both first and second year students to fulfill part of this objective.
First year students' rural week is an introduction to a range of rural health issues, Indigenous culture and rural lifestyle issues. Second year students choose either a clinical rural week with a general practitioner or a week of Indigenous cultural learning with the Adnyamathanha people in the Flinders ranges, South Australia. Evaluation data were collected from students, practitioners and university staff during rural weeks in 2003 and 2004 using quantitative and qualitative methods.
First year students increased their knowledge of and interest in rural medicine and enjoyed their (limited) clinical interaction with patients. Second year students appreciated the clinical experience and valued the welcome they received from doctors and practice staff. Those who chose Indigenous cultural programs appreciated the opportunity to interact with and learn from Indigenous people. General practitioners valued contributing to student knowledge and skills and the opportunity to promote rural practice. Volunteer community members were very enthusiastic about meeting the students and their generosity had a significant impact on the students' ideas about rural lifestyle. University academic and administrative staff found rural week very intensive work but experience and thorough preparation now ensures that few problems occur.
Rural weeks are now an established part of the first year and second year curriculum at the University of Adelaide Medical School. The ability to provide small groups of students with an intense introduction to rural practice and/or Indigenous culture results in a positive change in opinion about this aspect of medical education. Students now have first-hand experience to positively influence their choice of rural education or Indigenous health options in the medical course. Problems do occur with students being away from the traditional classroom, and protocols have been put in place for behaviour of all parties. Despite the rural weeks program being very demanding on staff energy, financial resources, general practices and rural communities, we feel that this program is valuable and sustainable. Further experience will determine if rural weeks function effectively as a recruitment strategy for the long rural placements offered by the Rural Clinical School.