Medicine Students Get Skills On The Job

JCU medicine students get hands-on experience treating members of the community at Vincent State School’s Free Community Health Project.

By Adrienne Curry

Last year, JCU medicine tutor Dr Nicole Mohajer, Vincent State School principal Christie Schmid and Australian charity The Smith Family joined forces to create the Free Community Health Project available for students and families at Vincent State School.

The project commenced earlier this year.

The Free Community Health Project aims to assist children establish developing healthy eating patterns and providing James Cook University medicine students the chance to gain experience in educating primary school children.

Dr Mohajer decided the project would be a good opportunity for fifth year medicine students in their General Practitioner (GP) term to exercise what they had learned at university and in placement.

“All GPs are expected to address obesity and dietary choices and to be able to work with their patients in managing lifestyle risks,” Dr Mohajer said.

“The fifth years spend most of their time in the hospital or GP clinic,” she said.

“This gives them an opportunity to also experience the wider community.”

The medical students practice dealing with children in a general practitioner’s position and teaching Vincent State School students healthy lifestyle habits.

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES: Students learn healthy habits

The work includes making medical observations and measurements, documenting blood pressure and explaining recipes and health tips.

Dr Mohajer said this opportunity was a beneficial medical platform for JCU medicine students to interact face-to-face with patients.

“On the most basic level, they learn to interact with and explain difficult concepts to primary children.

“They also become aware of the social and cultural issues that affect families from lower socio-economic backgrounds – it will help them when they have patients in the future who may not stick to medical advice because of some of these reasons,” she said.

“Most importantly, it builds engagement and attachment to the community that the medical students are living in.”

Dr Mohajer said Vincent was chosen for its “poor health and development indices”. The project is available to everyone but has a high focus on indigenous health.

IN PRACTICE: JCU Medicine students interacting with kids at Vincent State School

“Everyone is well aware of the huge gaps in lifespan and the large burden chronic disease plays in the indigenous community,” Dr Mohajer said.

“The literature implies some of the reasons for this are fear of the medical profession, not understanding what doctors are talking about, access to clinics, no car, no time, no money or other things to do, and a lack of access to healthy foods.

“Many families have so many pressures on them – overcrowding, poverty, social and health issues, that the minor health complaints of children get neglected.

“We want to bridge the gap between families and the health profession,” she said.

Dr Mohajer said she was confident in the project and had expansion plans.

“There’s a lot of demand for this program in other schools and next year we are considering expanding the number of schools and involving other health profession students.”

She said she believed teaching children to be healthy was one of the most important aspects of life.

“Making healthy choices cheap, fun and easy is so important.”

Vincent State School principal Christie Schmid said the project was aimed at educating the students about healthy lifestyle choices.

“The broad aim of the project is to improve the health and wellbeing of our community as well as to facilitate access to health services,” she said.

“We aim for students and families to have more timely access to health services.”

The Smith Family charity focuses on working with children up to 12 years old in West Townsville.

Free check-ups with JCU medicine students are available until October 31 at Vincent State School every Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30 to 4pm.