Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Reluctant student becomes enthusiastic rural ambassador

When Monash medical student Ben Amberg was allocated a rural placement in Gippsland as part of his studies last year he assumed a mistake had been made.

The Adelaide native who had spent the first two years of his course at Monash University’s Clayton campus, was a city boy who planned on a city placement and was less than enthused to find he was being sent to Traralgon – a town he knew nothing of – for the third year of his medical degree.

Just one year down the track and Ben is back, this time of his own accord, for another year in the Latrobe Valley after discovering the benefits of living and studying in a rural area. And it is not only patients at Latrobe Regional Hospital and local GP clinics who will benefit from having the keen student return.

Winner: Ben Amberg found a niche with the Traralgon football team. (Photo: Latrobe Valley Express)

The talented footballer also made his mark in the local sporting community during 2015, playing in a grand-final winning Traralgon senior football side. He will return to the side this year.

For Ben though, a key benefit to undertaking his local placement, facilitated by Monash Rural Health, emerged to be the learning opportunities offered through being part of a smaller team in a non-metropolitan based hospital.

Describing his initial reluctance to move to a rural area, Ben said “I probably didn’t know too much about it; I had talked to lots of students above me who told me about the great teaching at the Alfred, for example…so I requested a metropolitan placement. Later, when I opened my email to find I’d been allocated a rural placement I thought maybe there had been a mistake,” he said.

After confirmation that he would indeed be heading to the Latrobe Valley for the year, Ben set up house with a friend who had also been placed locally. His first few weeks signalled an “exciting transition” from “two years with our heads in books to suddenly being in a hospital and getting used to ward rotations.”

At the same time Ben, who had been playing football for Monash in Melbourne, was recruited to – and embraced by - the Traralgon Football Club.

“I know it sounds cliché but I really did quickly become part of the community then,” the young student said. “Suddenly I had 25 mates who were helping me out, a whole network of friends and a different social circle.”

This year Ben is relishing the familiarity of his new home town. “It is good to be back at the club, seeing all the familiar faces, and it is good to be back at LRH, with a big year coming up – year four – and different ward experiences to look forward to as well as a GP rotation in Moe.”

Ben’s year at LRH convinced him that, contrary to his earlier assumptions, the opportunities in a smaller setting are diverse and valuable.

“I think being able to do rotations for up to a month with the same team meant we developed good relationships with clinicians, who also gave us tutorials throughout the year…they get to know you and vice versa, then if there is anything they know you are interested in they will offer you opportunities.

“As year three and four students I think our job is to become really familiar with the fundamental type cases such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes – the most common cases we need to become really competent at managing – and I feel the more exposure we can get to those cases the better our skills are going to be and, from my experience, being in a rural experience is the best way to increase that exposure,” he added.

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