Regional Training Hub new director aims to train and retain locally.

None of Dr Mani Thomas’s other achievements have had his parents so excited as his new role as Director of Monash University’s North-West Regional Training Hub. “They are overjoyed that I’m finally doing something other than clinical work,” he laughed.

Coming from a family of educationalists– his mother was a physics teacher, his father a pharmaceutical scientist – it was almost inevitable that he would end up associated with teaching and training.

Dr Thomas completed his medical training in India and spent five years working for the Emmanuel Hospital Association, a not-for-profit Christian organisation which provides health care to poor and marginalized communities. “I loved the challenge of working in areas where there was a real need for medical support.”

About ten years ago, Dr Thomas and his family came to Australia to enable him to undertake advanced training. “The intention was to train in nephrology and go back. But training in Australia took longer than I expected and we as a family, fell in love with the country, so we decided to stay.”

The decision to stay in Bendigo came after he spent a few months as a renal advanced registrar working with Associate Professor Chris Holmes, Dr Greg Harris and Patrick Cooney. “I enjoyed working with the renal consultants and they were happy for me to come back once I’d finished my training to join the team.” Dr Thomas has been working as a consultant general physician and nephrologist at Bendigo Health since 2014.

The main focus of his new role as Director North-West Regional training hub is to help facilitate more training opportunities in the local region for junior doctors and health professionals who want to stay in regional or rural Australia.

His initial focus will be to understand the region’s health requirements and liaise with the key players involved in both training and recruitment. “The next step would be to try and formulate training pathways to support health professionals using the resources of the Monash university and local health care providers.”

While he will draw on many years of experience teaching medical students and trainee physicians, he knows his new role is itself not about teaching. “It’ll be about empowering local health care providers to train the next generation of medical professionals; to set it up locally so we can train them and retain them. That would be brilliant.”

He will still be working with students though. “I love teaching. Love teaching.” His parents will be happy knowing that he’s following in the family tradition.

Providing the missing link

Postgraduate training opportunities are acknowledged as the “missing link” in the pipeline of medical training. Through the federal government’s support of Rural Clinical Schools, universities have been successful in recruiting students of rural origin into medicine, training students in regional and rural locations, and encouraging the uptake of rural intern positions.

However, until the creation of the Regional Training Hubs, most medical graduates interested in pursuing specialist training needed to move to the city to do so. During this time, young doctors often put down roots in the metropolitan areas and it is difficult to entice them back out to rural practice. The Regional Training Hubs have been funded by the federal government to facilitate the development of specialist training positions in regional areas.

Two hubs in Victoria

Monash University has been awarded two hubs. The North-West Regional Training Hub based at Monash Rural Health Bendigo is responsible for developing rural and regional prevocational and postgraduate positons across all of the north west of Victoria from Bendigo to Mildura. The Gippsland Regional Training Hub, based at Monash Rural Health Warragul is responsible for developing training positions across all of Gippsland.

The hubs’ key roles include:

  • creating a streamlined pipeline of medical training opportunities in rural and regional areas
  • enhancing capacity and variety of specialist training in rural and regional areas
  • identifying and supporting students and junior doctors who intend to practice rurally.

To achieve their aims, the hubs will liaise closely with relevant education professionals and health service stakeholders, including local hospitals and health services, state and territory governments, other universities, specialist colleges (including general practice colleges), postgraduate medical councils, local health practitioners and regional training organisations.


This article courtesy of Monash Rural Health, Monash University. For more articles by this author, click here.