Thursday, November 22, 2012


Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
20 Nov 2012

Notre Dame's Graduating Class of 2011
On 19 December, the day after the University of Notre Dame (UND) annual Graduation Mass to be celebrated at St Mary's Cathedral by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, 107 students from the university's Medical School will graduate as Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery.
The graduation of the Class of 2012 from Australia's youngest medical school follows last year's  historic ceremony which saw 106 young men and women from the university's first-ever intake of medical students, graduate as doctors after successfully completing four years of intensive post graduate medical studies and training.
Now a further group is about to graduate from UND's Sydney-based medical school and preparing to take up internships at hospitals across Australia.
"All our graduating students have internship places for next year," reports Dr Christine Bennett, Dean of the Medical School. "We have one going to the Northern Territory, a couple to Western Australia, several more to hospitals in Queensland and Melbourne with the biggest number of students placed at hospitals in Sydney as well as in Wollongong, Gosford and other rural and regional areas throughout NSW." 

Dean of Notre Dame's Sydney Medical School, Professor Christine Bennett
For Dr Bennett what is particularly pleasing is not only the broad spread of hospitals where UND's graduating students who will do their internships but the number who have specifically chosen to complete their training in regional and rural Australia.
"Last year 11 of our students opted to do their internships in the bush. This year, it is even higher with at least 16 graduates wanting to do their internships in rural areas," she says.
Rural Australia has long battled a shortage of doctors with many areas having no doctors at all.
"As a nation we desperately need doctors who want to practice in the bush," Dr Bennett says and points out that a third of Australia's 21 million-plus population live in regional or rural areas. But as more and more people leave the bush for cities in search of work, towns that once had three or four doctors are often battling to find one. And for the one they do find, the challenges can be immense with the doctor tending a practice covering a vast rural area and on constant call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Health services in these districts are adversely impacted by the difficulty in accessing doctors. But in a bid to turn this around, Dr Bennett says with the  establishment five years ago, UND's Sydney Medical School has not only encouraged enrolments from students who grew up in rural or regional Australia, but ensures all students studying medicine are given vital hands-on experience at one of the university's rural clinical schools in Wagga Wagga, Ballarat or Lithgow.
In addition to its rural clinical schools, UND students also receive invaluable training at metropolitan hospitals such as those operated by the Hawkesbury District Health Service, Sydney's St Vincents and Mater Health or Victoria's Mercy Hospital at Werribee.

Notre Dame's Sydney Med School students
With a second class about to graduate, there is already definite evidence UND's strategy both in encouraging students from rural backgrounds to enrol as well as offering all students experience in rural health is paying off.
"The increased number of graduates who have chosen to complete their internships at hospitals in the bush is a real tribute to our rural clinical schools," Dr Bennett says and believes the university's clinical schools have also given many city-bred graduates a taste for rural life and a chance to become part of a rural community.
The 12-month internship for the students will further immerse them in rural life and give them a chance to experience rural Australia's warmth as well as its challenges, she adds.
Amongst Australia's medical schools, UND's faculty is unique.
"The wonderful thing about our school is that every student is trained by doctors. Everyone from our tutors to lecturers and mentors are all medically trained physicians," she says. "We also take a very personal interest in each of our students. To us they are not a number but individuals. We help them navigate personal challenges and we get to know their different strengths and weaknesses and tailor the program so there is real involvement at an individual level."

Notre Dame medical students gets invaluable hands-on experience at rural clinic schools as well as city hospitals
Dr Bennett is also proud of UND's unique core curriculum program which requires all students no matter what discipline they are studying, to pass units in ethics, philosophy and theology which she says helps foster a deep respect for human life and human dignity.
As a result, although just five years old, UND's Medical School has a fast-growing reputation not only for academic excellence but for its focus on medicine not only as a career but as a vocation.
"We are looking to produce excellence in doctors in terms of knowledge and skill. But beyond this, we also want to produce good medicine in relation to ethical practice and a real sense of vocation," Dr Bennett says.
Earlier this month, Dr Bennett was named one of the four finalists for 2013 NSW Australian of the Year. The winner will be announced next Monday, 26 November but Dr Bennett insists while being one of four chosen from more than 2000 nominations is a "lovely boost," no matter who is chosen next week, she already feels like a winner.
 "I love what I do and I particularly love the students," she says and strongly believes that as a life-long health campaigner and health advocate, there is nothing more important to her than being able to "touch the future of health care by training our future doctors."

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