I WILL declare upfront that I am a staff member at the University of Sydney's School of Rural Health, but first and foremost I am a member of the Orange community.
I have been compelled to respond to one aspect of the Murray Darling Medical School debate that has struck me as personally relevant. I have not been asked or instructed by anyone in my organisation to do so.
In parliament the Honourable Mr Gee described my place of work as having taken a “predatory and negative approach” and as having failed country Australia. He claimed we are only interested in students who represent “nice little earner(s)” and that we are motivated by wanting to “protect (our) business model”.
By association, he characterised me as predatory and negative, as having failed my community and as working for an organisation that is driven purely by the dollar and not by a desire to educate our doctors of the future, sentiments that local media have happily repeated several times.
This is quite different to the tone Mr Gee used in the letter he addressed to me last year – a letter he signed – imploring me as a member of his electorate to join the Nationals and support him in upcoming elections so that he would be able to represent me, a member of his community.
I think what may have been lost in this debate is that while I am employed by a 'big city organisation', a ‘sandstone university’, I live in this community. I use local health services. I've experienced first-hand what the inequities in rural health access mean. I hear about it from my father who is, as many people in Orange may know, a local GP.
I am a part of this community as a member of the local women's organisation Mr Gee implored in parliament to join this debate. I am a member of this community in my work life.
I sit on local committees exploring ways to improve local health services. I work with our medical students and actively set an example of what it means to live and work locally.
I conduct research in collaboration with our local Aboriginal Medical Service with a view to improving local services, and have encouraged and supervised our medical students to do the same.
I support research conducted by staff at our local hospital, by local doctors, nurses and allied health.
I teach in a Rural Research Capacity Program which encourages rural health professionals to research local rural health issues and services. I encourage 'big city' researchers to engage with local researchers rather than take a FIFO approach.
None of this work happened quickly. I have spent time engaging with other members of my community, setting up networks and building professional relationships.
Mr Gee stated in parliament that “country communities are tired of the inequality between the city and the bush”. As a rural health researcher, involved in the organisation of a local health conference with the theme “achieving equality in rural health outcomes”, I agree.
I really did not wish to engage in the public argument that has ensued recently around the MDMS. I did not want to add more 'facts' to counter Mr Gee’s erroneous arguments when countering “silly claims”.
However, I believe Mr Gee and the local media may have found it useful for their argument to paint me and my colleagues as disconnected from our community and as having only our city employers “greedy money grubbing” interests at heart.
Thank you for the opportunity to explain that nothing could be further from the truth.