OPINION

Passion and innovation in health key to strong regional communities

Supporting resilient rural communities has never been a more relevant or pressing national issue.

The rural Australia of recent times has been pummelled by threats and realities of drought, fire and flood, impacting ongoing employment and economic viability.

The spirit of so many of our communities is already fragile.

Their sustainability is not assured, and we need to take active steps to both protect them and help them thrive.

The health system that supports our rural areas relies on skilled generalist medical, allied health and nursing practitioners, combining passion, flexibility and initiative.

For me, the opportunity to make a difference and be part of a close-knit community are both attractive and satisfying aspects of rural practice work. Indeed, rural practitioners report high levels of work satisfaction and a sense of value in what they do and this is something deeply important to me, as a general practitioner and rural advocate.

The same values drove Tamworth-born nurse and rural health advocate, Elizabeth "Betty" Josephine Fyffe.

Like many nurses practising in rural areas, Betty Fyffe wanted to bridge the gap in access to health services that have long typified rural towns.

Her vision was for a sustainable rural health workforce that would continue serving communities, and her generous bequest will support this worthy ambition.

I'm excited to be part of this vision. In accepting the appointment as the foundational Betty Fyffe chair of rural health based at the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health, I hope to profile the positives of rural health careers and work with colleagues to roll-out innovations in rural care.

The position is proudly located in a regional community (Tamworth) in the north-west of NSW, where Betty spent her twilight years.

The hallmark of a well-functioning health system is its capacity to support those who do not have the geographic or economic advantages of those in the most affluent suburbs of our large cities.

We are building on solid evidence that recruiting health students from rural backgrounds, training them in rural communities and supporting students and junior clinicians to have rewarding jobs and experiences will improve the future of our regional workforce.

Challenges remain, but Betty Fyffe's bequest to support rural research, advocacy and care, will give us a greater chance to achieve long term rural workforce stability, a key ingredient in maintaining healthy communities. I look forward to playing a role in bringing her vision to life.


Professor Jenny May is director of the University of Newcastle's Department of Rural Health. Betty Fyffe's bequest will support scholarships for aspiring doctors, nurses and allied health professionals from regional and remote areas: www.newcastle.edu.au/scholarships/betty-josephine-fyffe-rural-health-scholarships