Supporting medicine in the bush

The University of Melbourne making a real difference to general medical practitioners in small rural communities.

Dr Michael Chabbou and Fiona Currie. Photo Supplied.

Embedding research academics in small rural communities has reaped rewards for the University of Melbourne and the small rural health services they collaborate with. The Rural Health Academic Network (RHAN) was created as part of the University Department of Rural Health in 2006 to do just that. There are four RHAN sites in Victoria; Benalla District Health Service, Echuca Regional Health, Cobram District Health and North East Health Wangaratta. Two more sites (Numurkah District Health Service and Albury/Wodonga Health) are due to commence before the end of 2017. A core function of the RHAN is improving health service delivery in rural communities through research and education.

Recruitment and retention of GPs to rural areas can be problematic due to the small pool of available medical staff providing 24 hour services to communities. One RHAN site supported rural nurses to undertake further academic study to extend their scope of practice as Rural Isolated Practice Endorsed Registered Nurses (RIPERNs). RIPERNs extended scope includes administering and supplying medications, suturing of simple wounds and management of fractures. A research study found that the extended scope of practice has made a real difference to GPs in the community [1,2]. Without exception the GPs perceived that the new extended practice scope of the nurses improved work/life balance for them, with less call outs overnight, more sleep, and better performance from being well rested. One GP commented ‘When the RIPERNs are working I know I’ll sleep well, because they have the skills to manage almost everything that presents. If they call we know that we are really needed’.

The RIPERN project is just one example of the multiple projects undertaken across the RHAN sites, making a difference to rural health.

[1] Cobram values it’s older nurses. VicHealth newsletter; (8)3.(2016)

[2] Currie, F. Nielsen, G., Ervin, K., Koschel, A. The Value of Rural Isolated Practice Endorsed Registered Nurses in a small rural health service. Research in Health Science; (1)1. (2016)