Monday, 23 February 2015

Flying start to a final year

Monash medical student, Julia Buras discovered remote health first-hand during her placement
with the Royal Flying Doctor Service

NOT so long ago Julia Buras was a Trafalgar High School student hoping to secure a university place after year 12.  Now a fifth year medical student with the Monash School of Rural Health, the Gippslander is close to becoming a doctor and she has recently spent a fortnight with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Western Operations.

From the Jandakot base south of Perth in Western Australia, Julia accompanied medical teams flying to airports servicing remote areas. The teams provided levels of care from stable patient transfer to critical care in the aircraft.

This year Julia, in her final year with Monash SRH, will be largely based at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Victoria, but will rotate through Melbourne and other rural Victorian areas. Julia organised the RFDS placement herself, seizing an opportunity to broaden her experience and learning opportunities.

Among the many highlights of her time in WA was the “privilege of working with some really amazing doctors, nursing staff and pilots”.

“The end result of the actual flight is the combination of effort from many people including medical officers, nurses, pilots and administrative and co-ordination centre workers,” she said.

“Together they ensure there is an aircraft available, it is equipped with everything that may be needed, it is staffed appropriately, they consider the crew’s flying hours and the weather and ensure the altitudes being travelled are appropriate for the patient’s condition.

“There are so many factors to consider because the crew needs to be completely self-sufficient when caring for the patient.  It was fantastic to watch these teams in action.”

Julia’s experience was often supplemented with geography ‘tutorials’ to provide a context for the flight logistics planning and journey.

 “I had firsthand experience of seeing not only how finite resources impact upon remote health outcomes, but also of how vast Australia is,” she said.

 “For me it was important to have a visual concept of the distances between locations, so I had a close look at the maps of WA, which helped me to appreciate the time and effort that goes into providing this service.

“The RFDS provides services to one third of Australia and the system differs depending on the state they are operating in.  There are so many sparsely populated communities in WA, many without medical care and some without good road access. The RFDS is critical to reducing the time taken for a patient to receive urgent medical attention.”

It was a steep learning curve for the Gippsland student in the first days of her placement. “During one handover a doctor was telling me about a patient who had presented at the Hollywood Hospital and who had come in from Denmark, so I thought the patient had been in three countries,” she laughed. “But Hollywood and Denmark are actually two locations within about a 400 kilometre radius of that was truly a ‘local’ geography lesson for me.”

Reflecting on her placement, Julia said “I was made to feel part of the team, there was a lot to learn and the clinicians were always happy to provide in-flight tutorials on a topic.”

Julia encouraged other students to pursue their interests through placements a little out of the ordinary.

“I found my placement to be absolutely amazing.  I know a placement with RFDS may not be for everyone, but it is great to follow what you enjoy and explore it further.”

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