Monday, 29 February 2016

International students start medical degree in Churchill

Eleven new medical students from Canada and Singapore didn’t know much about the Gippsland region before arriving in Churchill last week but by the end of this year, will feel right at home.

The students – eight from Canada and three from Singapore – are part of the intake of 87 students starting their first year of medicine at Monash University Rural Health in Churchill this year. Their program this year will see them on placements throughout Gippsland.

Welcome: 11 international students began their studies at Churchill this year. (From left) Professor Robyn Langham, student Kavisha Gunawardane, Deputy Dean (MBBS) Professor Michelle Leech, students Glenn Teng and Christopher Cunningham. 

Monash has taken up to 15 overseas students each year at Churchill since it began the graduate medical course in 2008 but this is the largest contingent of Canadians ever.

The interest from Canada in particular is expected to continue because of the highly competitive nature of getting into medicine in that country as well as the appeal of time spent studying and living in Australia.

Canadians Christopher Cunningham from Victoria and Kavisha Gunawardane from Vancouver said the current system in their country saw 20,000 students competing for only 2500 places. “It’s not about marks,” they said. “You just can’t get in as there are not enough funded places.”

Both researched overseas study options and were impressed by Monash Rural Health. “Monash has been incredibly helpful throughout the entire process,” Christopher said. “It has a family cohesiveness that I like. My wife is still in Canada and they have helped us find work for her as a teacher here. She will arrive in July.”

Kavisha said it was this personal support that convinced her to make the move.

Both applied through a Canadian agency, OzTREKK, contracted by Monash University to handle course enquiries in that country. After guiding students through the application process, Monash staff then travel to Canada to undertake the final interview with applicants.

All the students have degrees in science-related subjects with Christopher’s background in paramedicine, biology and psychology and Kavisha’s background bio-science.

Glenn Teng from Singapore completed a science degree in Toronto. After serving two years of compulsory national service with the Singapore Army, he began a business course like the “rest of the family”. But it wasn’t for him.

“I wanted to be passionate about my career choice and that’s how I feel about medicine,” Glenn said.
After the students complete their medical degree, they can return to work in Canada and Singapore as the Monash degree is recognised in both countries.

Deputy Dean (Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery) Professor Michelle Leech and new Head of Monash Rural Health, Professor Robyn Langham, joined Churchill staff to welcome the international students at an informal lunch last week.

Prof Leech said the Monash graduate course was different to most other medical courses. “It has a much smaller cohort and students have a different experience,” she said. “They become embedded in their community and it makes a difference.”

 Professor Langham encouraged the new students to enjoy their first year. “I spoke to last year’s cohort and their advice was while they were all ‘scared’ at the start of the course, there was no need and they enjoyed every part of the year.”

Director of Monash Rural Health Churchill, Associate Professor Shane Bullock, said all students were given good support to settle in to their new country and more importantly, their local community.

“We fill them in about the local area, explain local services such as how to get around the region, about things like water, road and bushfire safety and importantly the benefits of engaging with the local community for work, study and leisure,” he said. “We want them to feel at home in their new surroundings.”

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