How to prepare for and embrace the beginning of a new term or life rurally

Recent medical graduate, Jasmine Davis, shares advice on how to prepare for and embrace the beginning of a new term or life rurally.

This is an adaptation of the original article published on the AMA New South Wales website here.

A career in medicine is full of transitions: from high school to medical school to clinical placements to internship; and then residency, specialty training and fellowship. It can sometimes feel like you are always changing roles, locations and needing to figure out where you fit in.

In a country as geographically diverse as Australia, we have the added challenge of physical relocation also occurring alongside such transitions.

As a medical graduate from regional Victoria and an alumnus of my rural clinical school, I have undergone a number of relocations during my time at university; and with a desire to go into a career in rural generalism, I anticipate a number of additional geographical transitions in my career to come.

Shifting to live and work or complete placement in a regional, rural or remote community often comes with its unique challenges and benefits. The way in which we approach such a move, whether it be from metropolitan to rural or between rural sites, can have implications on the overall experience of your placement or rotation.

Here are my top tips:

1. Get to know the community you are entering

Once you find out where you are moving for your placement or rotation, make sure to find out as much as you can about the location, community and local surroundings. If you are a student, the best way to do this is to chat to students who have previously been placed in the rural area and ask them about their experiences. It is also worthwhile chatting to any educators or doctors who work in the area about their experiences and why they love working there. If it is possible, visit the community as a tourist prior to moving there to experience the local sights and surroundings.

2. Bring everything you may need

Sometimes the hardest part about constantly moving for rural rotations is the packing. What you need to bring will really depend on the distance your home is from the rotation, how long the rotation is, and the kind of facilities provided to you by the health service, or the place you are staying. Important things I have forgotten across my placements include bedding, phone charger, clothes for placement, and plastic containers for leftover food. If you find yourself far from home with forgotten items, ask other students or doctors in the accommodation, or try and get things from the local op-shop so you don’t end up with two of everything!

3. Seek out colleagues early

A key part of any transition into a new team and community is finding those people who you really click and work with well, and people who you can debrief with about your experiences. As a student, it is frequently easy to find the other students on placement with you. Spend some time at the start of your rotation getting to know them if you haven’t already. Go out for dinner and try a local restaurant together, create a local trivia team, or mixed netball team. Investing time early in the creation of friendships and relationships with colleagues will make your experience richer and more valuable; and will be incredibly useful should you find yourself in need of someone to whom you can talk.

4. Explore

When you get time off, make sure you explore as much as possible! Ask the staff at the hospital or clinic for activities to do on the weekends. Rural Australia is incredibly beautiful, and you are often not far away from a breath-taking hike, a gorgeous winery or a beachside town. Make the most of your rural time and see as much as you can, whilst supporting local businesses.

5. Look after yourself

Sometimes going rural can be tough. You may miss your family, friends, and the familiarity of wherever your home base usually is. Make sure in the period of transition into your rural placement or rotation, that you continue your usual routine as much as possible. This means getting in touch with a local gym and continuing your classes if that’s what you did back home, and it also means making sure to sleep and eat well. Talking to your friends and family as much as possible can also really help with the transition, and make sure to just be kind to yourself if you aren’t finding you fit in and love it straight away. Be patient, look after yourself and make the most of the time you have on the placement.

6. Share your experience!

If you enjoyed going rural, tell people about it! We need more students, doctors-in-training, and specialists to experience rural practice, and stay there. The more you share about your experience, the more we can do to dispel some of the fears people have about making the transition to become a rural doctor. Rural clinical school has been a career affirming experience for me, and I hope it is the same for you. Whether you want to be rural long term or not, sharing your experience can help others take the step to a potential future career in rural Australia.

About the author

Jasmine Davis is a recent graduate of the Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne. Born and raised in regional Victoria, Jasmine is a strong advocate for rural health equity and raising awareness of the declining numbers of medical students entering general practice. Jasmine led the Australian Medical Students' Association (AMSA) in 2022 as the President, representing 18,000 medical students and 500+ student volunteers. She has published research on the impact of conscientious objection in healthcare to women's access to abortion and has worked at ANU as a research assistant for a team working on increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients' access to primary healthcare.

Jasmine was recognised for her rural health advocacy work in 2023 when she was awarded the Rural and Remote Health Advocate of the Year award at the inaugural National Rural and Remote Health Awards in Canberra. She is currently completing her medical internship at Bundaberg Hospital as part of the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway.