Invercargill medical students coming to Vanuatu


Two Southland medical students have been awarded travelling scholarships that will allow them to build their medical experience outside New Zealand.

Mark Owen-Cooper and Tash Austin, both fifth year medical students at the University of Otago School of Medicine, have been awarded the Pat Farry Rural Health Education Trust Travelling Scholarship and will be spending 12 weeks of their trainee intern electives working overseas.

Owen-Cooper, from Winton, will spend a month working on a mobile surgical bus in New Zealand before heading to Scotland and the United States.

“I am flying to Scotland to do rural GP work in the Shetland Islands – kind of like the Stewart Island of Scotland I guess,” he said.

His time in the United States will be spent in the Appalachians on a wilderness medicine course, where he will receive training on how to provide medical care in wilderness emergency situations.

Austin, from Invercargill, will head to Vanuatu, before going on to Scotland and Malta.

After her stint in Vanuatu, where she will be working in a hospital on the outlying islands, she will spend time in a rural hospital in Scotland, close to Ben Nevis.

“I am going on to Scotland, to a small 18-bed hospital in the Highlands, and there they service their local population as well as quite a large tourist population,” Austin said.

The final part of her elective will be spent in an 800-bed urban hospital in Malta, where she hopes to experience the difference between an urban and rural hospital setting.

Both students were part of the rural medical immersion programme this year, an initiative started by Pat Farry in 2006.

Austin said that being students the scholarship gave them opportunities that they would not otherwise have been able to enjoy.

“I think it is awesome that Pat Farry has provided an opportunity for medical students to bridge those financial barriers and go off to see the world, which could often be a more expensive place to do your elective, and come back with those rewarding experiences and use them back here,” she said.

Both of them will look to return to Southland Hospital next year to complete their training and hope to stay in the region.

“It is just a random coincidence that both of us are from Southland and that we’re both coming back to do our trainee intern back here next year,” Owen-Cooper said.

Austin said she was attracted to rural medicine because it would allow her to get to know her patients better.

“You are able to form better relationships with your community so when it comes to being a doctor or practising health you have a better understanding of where those people are coming from. I think that is quite important,” she said.

For Owen-Cooper, the allure of rural medicine was the lifestyle balance it could provide.

“For some reason a lot of people don’t want to go rural, while I couldn’t think of anything better,” he said.