A group of concerned ANU students in the ANU Rural Medical Society (ARMS) have been travelling to remote areas outside the ACT and NSW to run “health check stalls” to bring further attention to rural and Indigenous Health. This initiative, as one of many health initiatives run by ARMS, works towards ensuring the proper level of medical responsiveness in rural areas.

“ARMS is a group of ANU Medical School student volunteers with over 250 student members. It aims to promote careers in rural health to students, advocate for rural health issues, and encourage students from rural areas to pursue careers in health,” said ARMS President Emily McLeod.

McLeod stated that ARMS recognized the prevalence of health issues facing rural, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. According to reports conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and researchers within the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australians living outside major cities have a higher rate of, as well as higher risk for, developing a large set of detrimental health factors. This includes lower life expectancy and higher death rates, presence of chronic diseases, and a higher prevalence of unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity.

This is particularly alarming given that the reports indicated that nearly a third of Australians were living outside metropolitan area, and that these diseases are preventable in nature.

“The ARMS rural health show checks provide a benefit to both our students and the rural communities involved,” McLeod said.

Gautam Bhanot, ARMS’ Publicity Officer, also believes that these types of shows have a substantial impact in the success of rural health initiatives.

“Chronic diseases are prevalent in our society, and the signs are normally hidden. These health shows provide a platform for individuals to screen for these basic health signs and identify people who are at risk of developing more serious conditions,” he said.

This program runs on a consistent basis, with stalls being run almost every week of the month. ARMS’ most recent health check stall was run in April at the Jerrawa Health Show, a one hour drive north from the centre of Canberra.

Alternate forms of awareness are sometimes propagated in its place, as was the case with the “Close the Gap” conference last March.

Funding for health and medical research has been traditionally lacking at the ANU in relation to the university’s more recognized International Relations and Public Policy faculties. As addressed during the ANU Chancellery’s “Have Your Say” talks which ran from the 23rd May-8th April, ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young is hoping to inject some breath into medicine at the ANU through re-appropriation of research funds. The ANU Medical School, an exclusively post-graduate degree, has taken steps to ensuring student awareness of rural health issues.

The ANU medical school has rural clinical schools based in Bega, Cooma, Young, Goulburn and the Eurobodalla Shire. All medical students spend a minimum of eight weeks in rural clinical placement throughout their degree and a quarter of each cohort spend an entire year in a rural town.

“The feedback from students undertaking the rural year is that the teaching, opportunities and hands on experience are plentiful – entry into the program has been competitive as the positive feedback spreads,” McLeod said.

“These long-term placements are important because exposure to rural health and rural placements during students’ medical degrees are associated with practicing rurally, and the longer the exposure the greater the likelihood.”

“We as a rural health club are proud to work alongside the ANU Rural Clinical School in ensuring that students have the opportunities to gain positive rural experiences and service these rural communities in need.”