Community Mentoring in Regional Victoria

A new program developed by the Melbourne Medical School rural clinical schools in Shepparton, Wangaratta, Ballarat and Bendigo pairs students who are studying in the area with non-medical volunteers to ease the students’ transition into the community and be a friendly local point of contact.

In 2015, this mentoring program paired student Katie Hudson, then in second year medicine, with Wangaratta resident Christine Riches, a management consultant who serves on the boards of several local organisations including The Work Group and GOTAFE (Goulburn Ovens Institute of Tafe).

KATIE

“I grew up in a small town in the foothills of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. A rural placement appealed to me so I could continue sports that are unique to the country like skiing and horse-riding.

Being new to Wangaratta, I thought the mentoring program would be a great way to meet people, make friends outside of the medical precinct and get to know the surrounding area from a local perspective. I was not disappointed! I love living in Wangaratta and much of that can be attributed to how welcomed, settled and supported Christine has made me feel here. The whole experience has exceeded my expectations.

When I was at high school, my family hosted a student from Finland for a year. She was immersed in our culture and we showed her our local area and helped her learn about where we live. I understood the value of local knowledge through this experience and I hoped for the same with the mentoring program in Wangaratta.

Over the past couple of years, Christine and I have had some great times together. We have been to the Mount Beauty Music Festival, we’ve met for coffee in local cafĂ©s and cooked dinner for each other. There are great coffee shops and wineries here and plenty of hiking and skiing during winter.

Medicine is a tough degree at times and it is so important to unwind and chat about non-medical topics. Many of my fellow students are not locals so most of us are living away from family and friends. You can feel really isolated if you don’t reach out, and the mentor program provides a really important source of support and welcome into the community.

Christine is so supportive and caring. I always look forward to our catch-ups. She has provided me with great support during stressful times, and I always feel lighter and happier after we’ve met up. Even though our official mentoring relationship is over, we still catch up for coffee and a laugh. If we’re too busy to meet, we speak on the phone. I consider Christine a good friend.

My advice to other students is that the mentoring program is a fantastic way to meet people outside of medicine and learn about the local district. Even if you don’t keep in touch long-term, the support and local contact during the first year in a new town is really valuable. One day I would love to mentor students in the same way.”

CHRISTINE

“My husband and I moved to North East Victoria from Adelaide about a decade ago. We were attracted by the skiing, horse-riding and the natural beauty and we settled in Wangaratta.

I heard about the Melbourne Medical School Mentoring program through my networks in the not-for-profit sector and my initial motivation for getting involved was to give back to my community. A major challenge for health service providers in regional areas is a shortage of GPs so I liked the idea of contributing to a program that attracts and retains medical practitioners in the area.

Wangaratta is a beautiful town and a gateway to some of the most spectacular places in Victoria. I knew I could help a student to settle in and feel more at home. I also wanted to be able to provide any help they might need, be it a friendly, impartial person to talk to or a couple of nights’ accommodation. The experience of mentoring more than lived up to my expectations. I feel that I gained a friend as well.

Katie and I initially met at a mentoring function organised by the University. It is a well-designed program with the right balance of support and freedom and operated with a light touch so the participants have optimum scope to develop
their relationship in a way that best meets both of their needs.

Katie is smart, hard-working and above all, caring. It is inspiring to hear her talk about her work. She cares a great deal for people and loves helping them and I think she will be a wonderful doctor.

During her first year in Wangaratta we met about once a month for coffee, we hosted each other for dinner a few times, and she and Nathan [Katie’s partner] stayed with us in Mount Beauty for a weekend to attend our annual music festival.

Katie and I share a number of interests, particularly skiing, so we chat about anything and everything when we catch up, from politics to her studies, the ski runs we like at Mount Hotham and Falls Creek, and our families. I guess this sharing of ideas and views is what I most enjoy with Katie. I also liked being able to share my knowledge of the area with her.

I always enjoy meeting up with Katie, and particularly our chats outside in the garden or around our wood fire, when we are both relaxing. I can see that the down time and the friendship are restorative for her, and I feel the same way.

I admire Katie's dedication to helping people in her work. Her everyday world is very different from mine and I enjoy hearing about it. We are still in touch, although both of our busy schedules make it hard to see each other as often as we'd like.

I recommend this mentoring resource to everyone, and I thank the University for the opportunity to participate in such a great program.”