Rural Round-up: medical students reflect on the WONCA Rural conference

Two Australian medical students, Thomas Currie (6th Year Medicine, James Cook University) and William Moorhead (4th Year Medicine, University of Queensland) – ‘Billy’ and ‘Tom’ attended the WONCA World Rural health conference in Cairns in early May. They provide their perspectives on the conference.

Rural, it’s a word that means something different to everyone.

As budding rural generalists in our final years of study, we looked in anticipation to the 14th WONCA World Rural Health Conference, an incredible four-day intellectual feast, and the first to offer a dedicated student stream. It is a rural health event like no other, poised on the international stage it has facilitated the coming together of the biggest names in rural health as well as students and young doctors beginning their journeys. Over 1,200 delegates from over 38 different countries attended the event, and we felt privileged to have been a part of a healthy contingent of students from several different continents.

Conferences are a time for reflection. To reflect on our goals, interests, practice and aspirations. From the lively, Australiana-themed opening, to an inspiring address on leadership from Prof Amanda Howe, there wasn’t a dull moment. The only complaints to be heard were that there were too many options to choose from! With over nine breakout sessions occurring concurrently at any one time, it was an exciting atmosphere, rife with the fear for missing out.

Among the student body however, it was the lineage of ‘student stream’ workshops that took priority, with standout presentations and engaging hands on workshops. An envenomation workshop saw the use of live reptiles, in a three-hour intensive that covered everything from jellyfish to snake bites. The student stream also opened the floor for interactive sessions run by Australian student rural health clubs as well as the National Rural Health Student Network, who provided a direct link for attendees to pass ideas and concerns upward to key policy makers.

Photo: Tom and snake at workshop

To that beginning, WONCA launched their new medical student and junior doctor network, Rural Seeds. Launch video can be seen below. It is a fantastic concept that is already shaping-up to be a revolutionary, world-changing program. Under this banner, a student driven ‘Call to Action’ addresses barriers to rural and remote practice from the student perspective. Never has there been a greater, more accessible opportunity for the international community of medical students to make a difference, whether it be in the progress of education, training or co-empowerment of communities at the local level.

Standout messages and inspirational speeches were bountiful. A/Prof Bruce Chater spoke about rural generalists being “Jack of all trades, master of none. But oft times better, than a master of one”. Mayara Floss quoted Lusan Menezes in saying, “Education is like a hug and it does not make any sense to do it alone”, while Prof Ian Couper told us that “life’s unfair, get used to it” before orchestrating the most interactive display of the social determinants of health that we have ever. Think reality TV-show ‘Survivor’ among an audience of 1,200 people.

Although collectively we heard from some of the world’s great speakers in health, it was the ‘hallway’ conversations that enhanced the overall individual experiences, enabling the formation of networks likely to last a lifetime. Complementing all of the above were multiple, frequent social events, facilitating the beginning of new friendships, the rekindling of old, and all the while involving medical students, for which we are immensely grateful to the WONCA Working Party on Rural Health.

So now that the conference is over, we reflect once more on how it has shaped our perceptions on this most rewarding field of rural medicine. Stoking the ‘fire in the belly’, it has created new friendships and provided actionable items for the global improvement of health. We have observed first-hand the way in which such a conference inspires the next generation to work for the betterment of rural communities.

From Billy and Tom, we say bring on the 15th World Rural Health Conference in New Delhi!... with hope that our future supervisors grant leave for what will build on this world of rural health.

See post event wrap and photos