Monday, 18 April 2016

Talented medical student won over by rural experience

High achiver: Matthew Howard won Monash Rural Health Churchill graduation prize for the highest aggregate mark. He plans to return to Gippsland with his family.
While it may have been love that first attracted Matthew Howard to West Gippsland, the experience of living in the local community won over the talented former Monash medical student, who hopes to return as a specialist in the future.

Matthew grew up in Geelong but moved to Bendigo to complete a Bachelor of Pharmacy after completing secondary school. Midway through the degree the high achieving student undertook GP placements and found a particular affinity for the diagnostic component of his studies.

“I felt that this was a step in the right direction for me and a challenge and I really enjoyed getting to be involved in all facets of patient care and communication,” he said.

What came next was a decision to move to Gippsland, where Matthew’s wife was born and had returned to work, and commence the graduate entry medical degree at Monash Rural Health’s Churchill site.

For five years, until the end of 2015, Matthew made Gippsland his home. His time spent with Monash Rural Health was marked by significant academic achievements. He took out the prize for Highest Academic Achievement for Monash Rural Health Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland year 4 students and followed that up last year with the Monash Rural Health (Churchill) Graduation Prize awarded to the graduate entry program final year student with the highest aggregate mark.

Matthew said studying locally offered multiple benefits for budding doctors. “I think you become part of the community,” he said. “As a student I felt everyone at West Gippsland Hospital and Latrobe Regional Hospital took me under their wing and I was never seen as a peripheral member of the team as all medical students are so welcomed and supported.”

“I felt really invested and I think I had far more practical opportunities as a rural student; I was assisting in surgeries by third year, I was able to really develop my practical skills in suturing and putting in IV (intravenous) lines, I was delivering babies in Warragul and seeing patients alone when I did my GP placement in Neerim South – all of those are opportunities a text book can’t provide you with,” he said.

Matthew credits his time with Monash Rural Health, where he built relationships with numerous local medical professionals who he described as “passionate, friendly and enthusiastic teachers”, with providing the foundations for his current medical internship at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital.

“Now, as an intern, I am finding that the various roles of a junior doctor not so foreign to me due to the great hands on experiences I have had during my time at Monash,” he said.

Matthew’s internship program consists of intensive blocks of work in various units, including general medicine, colorectal surgery, urology, the emergency department and aged care. Though for now he and his wife, who has taken up a place in a speciality orthodontics training program, are committed to building their expertise in Melbourne, their longer term vision is to return to Gippsland.

“We definitely want to come back,” he said. “After spending time there and seeing the population growth around Gippsland we think that this is where we can best serve the community in health care and we think it’ll be a great region to one day raise a family.”

The humble young doctor said being awarded last year’s graduation prize was a surprise. “I didn’t know there was prize for rural students so I felt very honoured that my efforts and studies had all come to fruition – it was fantastic! I thank Monash University for a great medical course” he said.

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