Celebrating 15 years of making a difference in Broken Hill

6 December 2012

The Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health (BHUDRH), the University of Sydney, has celebrated 15 years of helping to improve the health and lives of people in far-west New South Wales with the opening of a new $1.8 million Clinical Simulation Building by federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Saturday's opening was an opportunity to reflect on the department's achievements in research and clinical health, and to discuss how these are enabling the University's growing partnerships in the remote region.

The new facility houses rooms set up like hospital emergency departments to simulate trauma situations. Three high-tech manikins in the form of a man, woman and baby mimic real-life medical emergencies such as blocked airways and cardiac arrests, providing invaluable learning opportunities for students as well as practice tools for BHUDRH partners such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service (South Eastern Section).

The BHUDRH is one of 11 organisations across Australia that are funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing to increase recruitment and retention of rural health professionals, and improve the quality and appropriateness of health care for rural Australians.

Since it was established in 1997, the BHUDRH, led by Professor David Lyle, has made a significant difference, not just through the work of its researchers on population health, but also through the impact of student placements in enabling greater accessibility to health care.

Spurred on by this success, the University is looking at how it can develop its involvement in Broken Hill, exploring partnerships that will enable the University to contribute to the community more widely through research and student-led solutions that tackle complex health, economic, justice and social issues in remote and rural locations.

"Health is not just about doctors and hospitals," University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said at Saturday's celebration. "It's also about people who make a social contribution more broadly so that they can build up the fabric of communities in which good health can thrive."

Pilot programs include work by the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning and the University of Sydney Business School to provide innovative scenarios for the revitalisation of an abandoned power station in Broken Hill, offering up possibilities for the reinvention of the precinct through film production and tourism. The Business School is also working with the Wilcannia community, 200 km away from Broken Hill, to improve the sustainability and affordability of food supply.

Meanwhile, Sydney Law School has developed links to provide professional development for local community members working on social justice issues, while the Faculty of Agriculture and the Environment has undertaken geomapping and soil sampling to increase the evidence base around lead exposure.

A cohort from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has also just returned from Broken Hill, where researchers from the Department of History worked alongside local high school teachers to help share the region's unique culture and heritage with their students.

"Projects like these give our students and researchers the opportunity to see that their work makes a difference in the community, and gives communities the opportunity to see the relevance and importance of university work," said Dr Spence.

The involvement of other academic areas of the University runs in parallel with the increased involvement of the health disciplines.

Since it was established in 1997, the work of the BHUDRH in managing undergraduate health student placements in the region has grown from 133 students (339 student weeks) in 1999 to 370 medical and allied health students (2039 student weeks) in 2011.

Earlier this year, the University received a federal government grant to enable the establishment of multidisciplinary allied health clinics in Broken Hill schools.