A placement like no other
The John Flynn Placement Program (JFPP) is a fantastic opportunity allowing medical students to undertake fully funded rural or remote placements for two weeks each year over three or four years.
Students work alongside a rural doctor, experiencing the diversity of rural practice and expanding their hands-on skills.
Students live with a community host and return to the same rural location each year, creating lasting connections with the people and the place.
From rural Tasmania to East Arnhem land, dozens of health services across Australia open their doors to the lucky students selected for the program.
While the selection process for this scholarship is competitive, I highly recommend applying (if need be, every year from first year, as I did).
A once in a lifetime experience
I was finally successful in applying for the JFPP in my third year of medical school, which was the last year I could apply. I remember being so excited when I received the email, which also invited me to apply for the remote stream of the program.
This would allow me to complete my placements in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.
I was fortunate enough to gain a spot in Ti Tree, a community of a few hundred people just north of Alice Springs.
I was both excited and terrified, all ready to go until I received a phone call the day before I was due to travel on a bus from Alice Springs. I was told that the clinic could not take me anymore.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise; instead, I headed for the community of Yuendumu, about 300km north-west of Alice Springs.
There, I was welcomed with open arms to the community health centre, which consisted of Luana the manager, Mel the permanent nurse, Krissy the administration wizard, Amy the GP, Robyn the child health nurse, two Aboriginal health workers and five other fantastic locum nurses and midwives.
What I experienced
I was immediately “parallel consulting”, seeing my own patients and learning quickly how both the culture and the medicine in the outback are different.
With presentations and diseases that I had never seen before, I learned that I would need to think outside my limited knowledge and pool all the resources possible.
I dispensed medications, performed health checks, counselled patients, listened to their worries and tried to work with them to develop solutions.
I inserted cannulas, implanons and nasogastric tubes, took blood, and helped with evacuations of several sick patients with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
Outside of the clinic I was fortunate enough to interact with the community regularly.
I visited people’s homes, which were so different to my own, played with the kids at the local pool and youth centre, talked with the elders at church, and watched the local footy games.
Each time I returned over the next two years, I felt like I was coming back home to somewhere I was welcome.
Every time, I left with new experiences, new skills, new friends, and an even greater appreciation for Walpiri and Indigenous culture.
Although many of the nurses at the health clinic rotated through for a few months at a time, they were always trusting and pushed me to my limits, while making sure I did everything right.
All in a day’s work
On the first day of my final placement, two febrile children without a focus of infection presented just before the clinic closed at 4:20pm.
I ended up cannulating and running IVs for those children, then staying until 3:30am the next morning with the nurse on call, who asked me to organise the RFDS evacuations.
It was terrifying to speak to the senior evacuation staff in Alice Springs and Darwin and the RFDS coordinators.
However, I am so thankful for that experience and responsibility.
What I learnt
The JFPP gave me more than medical experience — it helped me develop independence, confidence, communication skills, cultural awareness, and appreciation for the amazing work of remote area practitioners and those who live in remote communities, facing a plethora of challenges people in metropolitan areas couldn’t fathom.
I strongly recommend that anyone considering applying should do so — there are so many places JFPP can take you, and I have never met anyone who regretted entering the program.
Who was John Flynn?
To most Australians, Rev. John Flynn is most recognised as the man commemorated on the $20 banknote.
In 1880, Flynn was born in the rural town of Moliagul, Victoria. In 1911, he completed training to become a Presbyterian Minister and was posted to a rural mission 500km north of Adelaide.
Here, Flynn learnt of the struggles faced by rural Australians, particularly in accessing healthcare. He had a vision to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for the ‘people of the bush’.
In 1928, Flynn founded what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), the world’s first air ambulance.
Flynn also founded what would become Frontier Services, which still to this day supports the safety and wellbeing of Australians living in regional and remote areas.
Flynn was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1933.
He died of cancer in 1951, aged 70.
Written by Susanne Kitching
Susanne graduated in 2018 from Monash University where she was the Club Chair of GPSN Monash University. She was elected to the GPSN National Council as the 2018 Local Events Officer. Susanne has a special interest in rural health and medical research.