Australian students hear from their new leaders at first Dean’s Forum

OUM’s leadership in Australia has taken a huge step forward in size and scope during 2020. A new Dean for Australia and three Associate Deans each have brought specific skills and backgrounds to the University that will undoubtedly strengthen the student experience.

Students had their first opportunity to meet the new Australian leadership at the first Dean’s Forum held Thursday, 1 October 2020. Hosted by Professor Hugh Bartholomeusz, Dean for Australia, he also introduced attendees to Dr. Enasio Morris, Associate Dean focusing on clinical skills, OSCEs, and AMC exam prep; Dr. Matthew Rickard, Associate Dean for Internal Medicine; and Associate Professor Athol Mackay, Associate Dean for Surgery and Clinical Course Director for Surgery for the University. Sharing remarks at the close of the meeting was OUM Chancellor Dr. Chris May who has been involved with OUM since its early days and is currently preparing materials for students on internship interviews and clinical handover.

“We have assembled a terrific team of very qualified clinicians to shepherd you through your course, the clinical side in particular, and to support you all the way, and I mean that very sincerely,” said Professor Bartholomeusz, who opened the meeting with two important topics: clinical placements and internships.

The current Australian placement situation

“Before I joined the University, I noticed that placements had become quite problematic. I know that many of you have had to go ‘cap in hand’ to get placements yourselves. But now we plan to get to a mature situation where we can post you to placements for at least three to six months in advance, but we are not there yet,” said Professor Bartholomeusz.

Once international borders open again, he said OUM will restore rotations and formalize existing overseas relationships at OUM’s home, TTM Hospital in Samoa, and Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore, India. He commended his predecessor, Dr. Meshach Kirubakaran, for championing and establishing the stellar clinical training opportunities provided at CMC.

Professor Bartholomeusz currently has a number of placement opportunities in negotiation.

“Ramsay Health Care’s CEO has approved for OUM students to be placed in all 73 of the system’s hospitals in Australia, BUT we must speak with each facility,” he said, adding that he has met with the placement coordinator in Melbourne and provided the appropriate paperwork which is currently undergoing legal review. He hopes to receive a final agreement in the near future so OUM will be able to begin posting students centrally.

“Please do not send a barrage of emails in the morning to Joe Korac or to me asking for Ramsay placements. You will receive an announcement as soon as we can begin placing students at Ramsay facilities. But we are not there yet,” he said.

OUM students have utilized a number of university elective placements extensively over the years, said Professor Bartholomeusz. While they are not currently an option due to COVID, he said we are looking at entering into more strategic partnerships so that you can apply for those electives once they are again available. One institution that has not been part of that mix is the University of Sydney. Professor Bartholomeusz attempted to organize a strategic partnership with them, but they are not interested at the moment.

Until these opportunities are finalized, the University’s Australian clinical clerkships will operate on this hybrid placement model:

  1. Placements you find – bring them to Professor Bartholomeusz and he will help you set them up.
  2. Placements we have at Ramsay Hospitals– we have a few already available where individual students have rotated in the past and more will become available once a finalized agreement is reached.
  3. Elective placements at other universities, once COVID permits.
  4. Use of our large database of all past placements where OUM students have rotated over the last several years. If you find something appropriate, we will contact the clinician asking if he/she will take another of our students. (Professor Bartholomeusz is happy to do that, he said. Further information can be found in the Australia Clinical Rotation Overview.)
  5. Do not contact the hospitals directly. Current students have lost opportunities with several sites because previous students hounded the hospitals. Contact Joe Korac for more information.

In closing his discussion about rotations, Professor Bartholomeusz shared items to remember during placements. He acknowledged that while they may seem like common sense, their importance renders them worthy of restating.

“During all of your placements, remember that you are emissaries for OUM. Whatever you say and do reflects on the University, fellow students, faculty, the course, and the University at large. So, it is very important that you appear at your rotation neat, tidy, punctual, and respectful to your tutors.”

“Some of you are mature age students and I understand that. In fact, some of the consultants or even the heads of units may be younger than you. But remember, you are the student. They are the teachers, and you must respect that paradigm. I know that sounds self-evident, but unfortunately, at times, it is not,” he said.

“Above all, please, and I’ve seen this in the past with students from other universities in my own unit at Greenslopes Private Hospital — never appear arrogant or sit in the corner of a theater or patient room talking on your phone or sending text messages. That is not appropriate. You must be keen, willing to learn, and participate.”

Next . . . internships

Professor Bartholomeusz reminded students that without AMC accreditation, OUM students must pass the AMC Part 1 exam, then there are a couple options.

“OUM students have an impressive AMC 1 pass rate of 95 percent,” he said. “Those of you who want to, can then go ahead with AMC 2 and apply as priority to overseas students to get placements in any Australian hospital. However, to me it seems logical to look at passing AMC 1, then moving forward to look at sites in Australia where our graduates can go to have workplace-based assessment (WBA).”

He went on to explain that he had contacted all nine of the WBA sites in Australia and has received five responses, three positive. Those were from Northern Tasmania, where OUM graduates have been in the past, Joondalup in Western Australia, and Bundaberg in Queensland. They all provided paperwork for those interested in applying.

Dr. Enasio Morris, the first Associate Dean to join the Australian leadership team earlier this year, was also Director of the AMC WBA for the Goldfield Area Health Service in Western Australia. He also may answer questions and assist students once they reach this milestone.

“I need to add that we can help you with the paperwork and we can set it up for you. But we cannot get you the job. You have to interview and interview well,” said Professor Bartholomeusz.

To that end, OUM Chancellor Dr. Chris May noted as he closed the Forum that he is currently working on a video to help students with their interviews and guide them through the nuances specific to interviewing within the medical field.

A few words about the OSCE

Understanding how important this topic is for fourth-year students, OSCEs also were discussed during the Forum.

“Since the usual OSCEs are only being done in Melbourne for Victorian students (due to COVID-related border closures), we are moving forward with the OSCE organized by an external provider, Dr. Majid Gondal, AMC and RACGP examiner, on Saturday, 5 December. Since situations could change before December, and we do understand that you need the OSCE, we will continue to look at alternatives,” said Professor Bartholomeusz.

He also shared that while students have not had to do this in the past, this year there is a payment required to take the OSCE.

“In America, they pay an extraordinary amount of money for their OSCEs. We have worked out that we can finance a very good OSCE exam for $500 for the day. Joe will be sending you information about that in the near future. I am sorry that you have to pay for your OSCE. You’ve been very, very lucky in the past that there hasn’t been a monetary component, but it is the only way forward. Again, we will be commencing with this year’s first OSCE in Melbourne on 5 December,” he said.

Dr. Morris also contributed to the OSCE discussion. He is working with Dr. Majid on arrangements for December’s OSCE and he is especially concerned for and sensitive to the students who need their OSCE to graduate. He also shared his experience as an emergency physician, as well as the work he will be doing with students on their clinical skills assessments and logbooks. His education and clinical experience throughout the South Pacific, having held both clinical and consultancy positions in Fiji, Nauru, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, and even Samoa, brings a depth of experience and perspective that will be invaluable to our students.

Also introduced at the forum was Dr. Matthew Rickard, Associate Dean for Medicine. He said, having attended medical school in his mid-30s after a career in engineering, he is very understanding of the challenges faced by OUM’s student body of largely non-traditional students. He also echoed the need expressed by Professor Bartholomeusz for the key core rotations to have at least six of the twelve weeks spent with a true generalist (see Australia Clinical Rotation Overview). As with Surgery, Dr. Rickard agrees the core Internal Medicine rotation should include at least six weeks with a generalist, also recommending students spend time with more than one physician to broaden their learning experience.

“Internal Medicine is a very big area,” said Dr. Rickard. “For students who have not yet been through the Internal Medicine rotation, a challenge awaits. I encourage you to talk to students who have done their Internal Medicine rotation. Students often find it quite comforting. Every patient is completely different – different systems, different problems. And even when you treat the same condition in Internal Medicine, the patient’s age and trajectory through the disease may very well completely change the direction of treatment. So, you really need to grasp the topic well since it is what all sub-specialties are based upon. You will struggle later in whatever you choose if you don’t get good grounding at this stage,” he added.

Associate Professor Athol Mackay, Associate Dean for Surgery and Clinical Course Director for Surgery, noted that his first task at OUM is to revise the surgical syllabus. He encouraged students who had completed their Surgery rotation to provide feedback on the syllabus. A former military surgeon, like Professor Bartholomeusz, Associate Professor Mackay was also a pediatric surgeon for 25 years and spent several years as a country GP. And like Dr. Rickard, he came to medicine from a different career.

“When I did my surgical primary exam, I was the Medical Superintendent of Biloela Hospital in Central Queensland. I was also told that it was impossible to pass that exam without being from a big city hospital. So medical school has its difficulties, but it can be done,” said Dr. Mackay.

Student Q&A began halfway through the session. Some questions had been submitted in advance; others were asked by students in-person. A list of topics discussed and a link to the Dean’s Forum are in the box above. Students are encouraged to access the session.