Crisis boost

EMMA Whittington is one of eight medical students who have chosen to continue their studies in Swan Hill in an effort to boost the local health workforce in the face of COVID-19.

The 22-year-old, from Geelong, is 11 weeks into her placement in the Mallee, with another seven weeks to go and said if it is left up to her, she plans to stay for the duration.

She is joined by another seven Monash University medical students completing their placement with Swan Hill District Health.

"We're lucky to still have our placement running," she said, adding many universities had put a halt on clinical placements as the virus continues to spread.

"The university has said if you want to go home, you can go home, but everyone up here has chosen to stay."

Ms Whittington said there were a number of reasons behind her decision to remain.

"It's a bit of a combination between, we do really love our teachers up here and we love that they are happy to continue our education," she said.

"We (students) also want to contribute to the healthcare workforce in a time of need, so it wasn't really something any of us considered, abandoning our posts up here.

"Until the university has to take us off or for some other reason, we're all keen to stay and help out, as much as we can."

Ms Whittington is in her fourth year of a five-year degree and said she plans to practice rurally once her education is complete — ideally as a general practitioner (GP) in a small coastal community.

She and the other interns are at the health service on their GP rotation, working primarily at the Swan Hill Primary Health Medical Centre under the leadership of Dr Ernan Hession, but also available to assist in various areas of the hospital.

"We do most of our work here (the practice), and we also help out a lot with telehealth consults because it is the best way for us to learn at the moment, while social distancing of course," Ms Whittington said.

"We do still see patients in clinic, when that's possible, but there is a bit of a reduced patient load at the moment because everyone is doing the right thing and staying home.

"We also do a little bit of work across midwifery and the emergency department."

Having completed a placement in Mildura last year, Ms Whittington is no stranger to northern Victoria, and said she enjoyed the opportunities and challenges presented by a rural health service.

"In terms of your lifestyle, you do get a bit more flexibility, personally, I enjoy a small community, I'm not a big city person," she said.

"In terms of being student, you get a lot more close interaction with your supervisors and it has a bit of an educational edge, the doctors really do look after you and so do the nurses — and everyone else. It makes a really good learning community."

Ms Whittington said COVID-19 made for a scary, but exciting time to be entering the medical field.

"It's an exciting time, in terms of that it's something the medicine field hasn't really faced before — a pandemic in such a globalised world," she said.

"There is that combination where it is a bit exciting and a bit scary, but it seems like the government has a really good hold on it at the moment. They're taking all the right precautions at the right times.

"Hopefully we are able to keep it under control, but it is definitely a big learning curve for everyone in medicine, not just the students."

Ms Whittington added the appreciation she was seeing from patients had surprised her.

"It's amazing having a chat to people during telehealth consults and they're like 'thank you so much', and, I don't feel like I'm that important, but it is really nice hearing appreciation from the people that you see," she said.

Ms Whittington said the students were also thankful to the hospital for its decision so far to continue with the placements.

"We (medical students) would also like to thank the hospital for backing us," she said.

"I know a lot other placements aren't running because the hospitals don't feel like it's helpful having the students on board, so we're really grateful that the hospital is behind us and that Dr Hession, our clinical director, is also behind us and is backing us to keep teaching in this obviously uncertain time."