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Bond sends healing hands to Solomon Islands

March 5, 2013

Four Gold Coast medicine students swapped their state-of-the-art training facilities at Bond University’s Medical School for a one-doctor hospital on a remote Pacific island as part of a unique clinical placement arranged by Bond academic, Dr James Fink.

On January 21, Anthony Brown, Greg Leeb, Matthew Kelly and Jack O’Sullivan flew to the island of Makira – just under 250kms from the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara – where they spent four weeks working and training at Kirakira Hospital.

When asked to describe his experience Mr Anthony Brown said it was so multifaceted that it was difficult to summarise. 

 “The experience was definitely like nothing I have done before. Professionally this opportunity has broadened my knowledge and advanced my skills, as I had exposure to procedures and clinical decision making that I would not have necessarily experienced in Australia until much further into my medical career,” said Mr Brown.

“We were responsible for every aspect of a patient’s care and well-being that provided invaluable hands-on experience and autonomy while influencing patient outcomes. 

“Personally, I believe I have matured as a practicing clinician and now have an even greater appreciation of cultural issues – the remote area that we were in meant I had to think laterally about my treatment plans and the impact they had on the patient – I couldn’t simply advise a patient to come back next week as they often had to walk for many hours to get to hospital, which often meant they couldn’t farm that day or feed their family.

“Long-term I know I will continue to work with developing countries to provide medical assistance that can significantly impact disadvantaged communities,” he said.   

The students are all in their fifth and final year of a Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree and worked in the hospital and at community clinics scattered around the island.

“The main healthcare facility at Kirakira is a 50-bed general hospital staffed by one doctor and a team of registered and enrolled nurses,” said Associate Professor Fink who has visited the island several times to arrange the placement for his students.

“The hospital facilities are very basic with little running water, inconsistent electricity, and surgery that can only be performed under spinal anaesthetic. The Kirakira staff also run a number of community clinics in more remote areas where people often walk for several days to get medical assistance and may be transferred to the main hospital by landcruiser or more often, by boat.

“For our Bond University students, it is an opportunity for them to gain an understanding about how health care is delivered in a community with very limited resources.

“They will also be able to see the clinical course of diseases which are no longer common in Australia, or are detected and treated much earlier here than they are in the Solomon Islands.

“It is also an opportunity for Bond University to assist a disadvantaged community by providing extra healing hands.

 “As part of the training program, Bond’s Medical School will send a clinical academic to Kirakira for one week during each rotation to assist with the students’ supervision and explore additional ways that we may be able to help them.

“Our on-campus Medical Students’ Society has already expressed an interest in raising funds to purchase equipment for Kirakira Hospital so we hope this is the beginning of a long-term partnership where we can really make a difference to people’s lives.”

Dr Fink was inspired to set up the student rotations after visiting the Solomon Islands in February last year [2012].

He has previously volunteered his medical expertise in a number of disadvantaged communities, starting with a stint in Kathmandu when he himself was a student.

During his time on-staff at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, he volunteered as an attending physician overseeing medical students working at Jeffhope – a student-run clinic which provides treatment for the homeless – and he has worked with charity-based programs in Oregon and Mexico.

“We will assess the Solomon Islands project after our final rotation in early May but I am hopeful that we can expand it to a permanent arrangement,” said Dr Fink.

“Having Bond students as a continued presence at the hospital should certainly help alleviate the medical staffing issues on Makira Island.”

It was the first of a series of month-long rotations involving a total of 16 Bond MBBS students over the next four months. The next group will depart on March 18, 2013.