James Cook University School of Medicine
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [10.05 p.m.]: It was a privilege to visit and be briefed on the operations of the medical school at the James Cook University, at its Townsville campus. For that I thank the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Science, Professor Ian Wronski and his staff. Professor Wronski is, among other things, a former president of the pioneering Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, an important body that has helped give rural and remote medicine a special profile in high places. The James Cook University School of Medicine is the only full medical school in northern Australia, primarily based in Townsville but with staffing resources located throughout northern Queensland with clinical schools at Cairns, Atherton, Mount Isa and Mackay. As Australia's newest medical school, it commenced in 2000, it has the latest in educational approaches and technologies, but with a strong emphasis on community links. Its vision is to pursue excellence and provide leadership and medical leadership and research.
In particular, programs will be responsive to the health needs of the communities of northern Australia. The school will be a leader in the focused areas of rural and remote health, indigenous health and tropical medicine for Australia and for the wider Asia-Pacific region. The James Cook University [JCU] offers a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Science program. The success of this medical school offers a model that may well suit non-metropolitan New South Wales. The JCU medical school is uniquely qualified in the fields of rural, remote and indigenous health and tropical medicine. Information technology pathways are used extensively. Each week's learning is available to students online; interactive electronic workbooks are used, as are virtual laboratories.
Students are able to study in the discipline of general practice and rural medicine. The school's founders understood that the provision of adequate relevant health services determines the sustainability of many non-metropolitan communities. Health is their anchor. The Queensland health system has been under serious stress and well and truly in the spotlight, due to the revelations of multiple inquiries into Dr Patel's record at Bundaberg hospital. JCU's School of Medicine is a bright spot in that State's stressed health infrastructure.
The faculty is making a valuable contribution to helping make up Australia's serious doctor shortage, a phenomenon that is not going to end any time soon. In its first four years, there have been several thousand undergraduates at varying stages of their degrees. JCU has its eyes well and truly on helping provide the health work force needed in Australia, recognising the future demands for those trained in biomedicine and for super nurses and clinical assistants. It is a credit to many people, including community minded local campaigners who were unrelenting advocates for such an institution, that such a fine and popular medical school was brought to fruition.
Part of the negotiations making it a viable proposition involved closing the old, rambling Townsville General Hospital in the town, and the building of a new base hospital, almost in spitting distance of the faculty at the university campus. Within the school a collaborative centre of excellence is being developed; it aims to be a leader in research. Students undertake courses in Townsville for the first four years and then branch out to Cairns, Mackay and Mount Isa for their final two years. Most of the intake is from non-metropolitan backgrounds. Happily many are from Townsville; the city's young people choosing to stay in their home city instead of departing for a capital city medical school. They have access to a state-of-the-art medical school in a vibrant city in one of the most attractive regions of Australia. It attracts applicants from many other parts of Australia.
The graduates will be well trained and confident. This year, many of the applicants were from elsewhere in Australia. Unlike older metropolitan medical schools, James Cook University chose to buck the metropolitan trend to cut the years of study in medicine. JCU believes that, especially for those destined to practice in rural and remote locations, wide training is required. James Cook University sets great store in the need to graduate health professionals who relate very well to their patients.
Accordingly, two-way laboratories and mock doctors' consulting rooms are used so that students can gain experience in communicating with their patients whilst being monitored. I had the privilege of inspecting those facilities and other sorts of facilities. Students have access to excellent workrooms where they can study together. Hot spots have been set up at the health education precinct on the campus. At a café, which is just near the general hospital, medical training and other students can mix. The James Cook University medical school is an aspiring place. I look forward to the day when New South Wales can boast at least one such medical school located outside Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.