Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Soccer connects student to community

Champion links: Rachael Shirlow (right) found it easy to immerse herself in the local community, especially once she joined the local soccer team.
Monash medical student and soccer enthusiast Rachael Shirlow had established herself in Melbourne after moving from NSW to complete her first three years of study when she found out she was headed for year-long rural placement in Gippsland.

While she was not opposed to the news Rachael said she hadn't opted for a rural placement so the ‘random allocation’ was somewhat unexpected.

"This will work for me"

Despite some trepidation, it took just a few short weeks for the young student to realise “this was going to work for me”. While she had spent her initial years studying medicine in Melbourne, Rachael is a country girl and she found herself quickly immersed in the Leongatha community, both in and out of the workplace.

“What really contributed to the ease of the transition for me was the Monash Rural Health group in South Gippsland,” she said. “It is so organised, the tutors were so friendly and the orientation was very welcoming and relaxed so the nine of us students who were placed in South Gippsland, between Leongatha, Foster and Wonthaggi, were able to quickly get to know one another.”

Rachael shared a Leongatha house with some of her fellow students and between them they rotated through a series of GP placements across the region as well as shorter ‘intensives’ in the areas of community psychiatry, women's health and paediatrics.

Sporting links

She soon found herself connected in more ways than one after she joined the local soccer team, Leongatha Knights, which went on to win the South Gippsland League grand-final. “I found that I made friends so easily in this environment, I have even attended the wedding of one of my friends from the club since then,” she said.

Rachael relished the opportunity to return to the sport she loves. “I had played soccer right through my schooling years but in the first years of medical studies in Melbourne I found I had to take a break,” she said.

The simplicity of country life lent itself to a better balance. “It's so much easier to get around than in the city, so that leaves more time for sleep, study and leisure – a lot of students can get quite anxious by the fourth year of this course but being in a rural area gives you an opportunity to escape city stressors,” Rachael said.

More opportunities

The advantages were so many that Rachael opted to return to South Gippsland this year for her six-week surgical rotation as a fifth year student. Much of the appeal lay in the level of support she said students experience in a smaller environment, and the extra opportunities for practical experience.

“We absolutely had more opportunities that our metro-based counterparts,” Rachael said. “The ratio of students to teachers is less so it is actually a lot more engaged and interactive than sitting in a lecture with say 100 people; there is a general feeling of being valued.”

“When I was doing my women’s health round, for example, I could be called at 2am (by the staff) because they knew I wanted to attend and be part of what was happening,” she added.

Returning to a familiar area for her surgical rotation was “a fantastic experience,” Rachael said. “I had gotten to know the GP anaesthetists really well so they would get me to do drips and airways and assist wherever practical; I also gained valuable experience in suturing and they really helped to talk me through things.”

Her experiences in South Gippsland have cemented Rachael’s intention to return to a country area to practice medicine upon graduation. “My main interests lie in general practice and paediatrics but either way I can take either of those specialties to the country and that’s what I intend to do,” she said.

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