The University of Sydney's rural clinical school was established in 2001 with the dual aims of teaching medicine in a rural setting and strengthening the rural medical workforce. Today, around 65 Sydney Medical Program students attend our campuses in Dubbo and Orange, and are taught by health practitioners throughout western NSW.
As part of the Federal Government’s Regional Health Strategy, funding was provided to universities to develop and maintain at a national level, a rural educational and training network via the establishment of Rural Clinical Schools. The aim was to increase the availability and viability of Australian rural health services in the long term. Rural clinical schools are designed to expose medical students to rural and remote Australia by enabling them to undertake extended clinical training placements in rural locations and thus encouraging them to return to rural practice.
Dubbo’s Base Hospital and the city’s clinicians had a well-established tradition of teaching medical students, and talks held there in 2001 about the establishment of a local clinical school were met with great enthusiasm.
When Professor Rick McLean took on the role of Associate Dean in July 2001, the School of Rural Health (then the Dubbo Clinical School) comprised a laptop computer, mobile phone and little else. There was certainly no physical facility or any other staff at this time.
In the latter half of 2001, after securing some very basic premises and hiring the first staff, the first group of six students were encouraged to undertake 8 weeks of their medical training in Dubbo. The students enjoyed the educational and social experience and went back to Sydney keen to convince other students to give the rural placement a go.
The Orange Campus began operating in 2002, initially at Twilight House and later at dedicated but temporary premises nearby. The new campus included teaching and administration facilities as well as accommodation for 16 students. Plans are now well advanced to relocate the Orange Campus to purpose built facilities adjacent to the Bloomfield site of the new Orange Base Hospital.
The Dubbo Clinical School became known as the School of Rural Health on 1 March 2004 and its purpose-built Dubbo Campus officially opened on 18 August that year. The new campus provided teaching and administrative facilities, as well as accommodation for 25 students. In early 2009, a student recreation centre and accommodation for a further 10 students was added to existing facilities.
The School has had excellent educational and social success, and very positive feedback from students. The number of students requesting placements at the School of Rural Health often exceeds available places.