Investing in rural medicine

When Alcoa of Australia set up shop in the small coastal town of Portland in 1986, the health and safety of its 600+ workers was paramount.

With a large workforce in a number of rural areas, the organisation understood the importance of quality healthcare, particularly the provision of excellent injury management, rehabilitation and medical surveillance services for its employees.

The solution was rather novel – a partnership between Alcoa of Australia and Deakin’s School of Medicine which lead to the creation of the Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine (CREM) in 2009.

Thanks to the generosity of Alcoa of Australia, this collaborative partnership has made important progress in delivering valuable emergency medical services to not just Alcoa employees, but also communities in rural and south-west Victoria.

Since its inception, CREM has rolled out a number of successful programs that aim to expand rural emergency care capabilities not just locally, but across Australia. Accredited Registrar Training Posts established by CREM in partnership with regional hospitals have seen practitioners gain further qualifications in emergency medicine, including the capacity to respond to major incidents in rural areas like bushfires and industrial accidents.

CREM is also a significant contributor to research, with a specific focus on the disparity between clinical outcomes in rural and metropolitan areas. The Centre also provides quality emergency medical training to regional medical staff, doctors and GPs, helping them stay abreast of new principles and techniques in the field.   

Ten years on, CREM continues to make great strides for emergency medicine practice in the country, with growing demand for its uniquely tailored services.

To celebrate the partnership between Deakin, Alcoa of Australia and CREM, Associate Professor Tim Baker, the driving force behind the Centre, welcomed local Deakin alumni and Alcoa representatives to an event on Thursday 21 March at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus.

Deakin alumnus Anne Wallis, former staff member Dr Pat Varley and Professor Robert Wallis enjoy the 10 year celebration event at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus

Professor Baker delivered a thought-provoking presentation about why rural health services are negatively affected by ‘geographical narcissism’ and what CREM is doing to raise community understanding of the issue and combat the idea that ‘urban doctors are more qualified than country clinicians.’ 

“Rural discrimination has a real bite,” Professor Baker said.

“Rural areas have less education and less wealth and certainly less health. Every day in Australia, about 11 rural Australians die from diseases that would have been prevented if they had the same care in the city.

“Thanks to Alcoa’s support, the Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine has been able to directly tackle these problems, working with local emergency departments, researchers and other stakeholders to provide rural Australians with the medical services they deserve.”

Alcoa Alumina Global Medical Director Dr Michael Donoghue congratulated Associate Professor Baker and the team on their successful 10-year partnership. 

“Alcoa’s partnership with the Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine has produced tangible outcomes for regional communities, including Portland, where many of our employees live and work,” Dr Donoghue said.

“It has been a pleasure to see the Centre mature under Tim’s leadership.”

Director of CREM Associate Professor Tim Baker and Alcoa Alumina Global Medical Director Dr Michael Donoghue at the 10-year celebration event at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus