Cathy's Grafton Adventure

image - Cathy's Grafton Adventure5th year UNSW medicine student, Cathy Zheng, did her placement in Grafton in early 2014. Here's what she had to say:

My month in Grafton

It was 7:12am on a Sunday when I boarded the XPT from central station to Grafton. I was sleep-deprived, hungry, and grumpy at the prospect of spending the next month in some small country town slaving away at hospital while all my friends were still on holiday. Ten hours, three naps, and two meals later, the train pulled into Grafton station. Looking around, I was struck by the amount of greenery there was, and wondered where on earth all the people were hiding. From where I stood, I could see the sunset over the Clarence River, a sight that no words could do justice, and I had an inkling for the first time, that this placement might be okay.

Hospital life

At Grafton Base Hospital, I did my first term in general medicine, during the summer teaching period. This meant that many of the usual doctors were away on around-the-world cruises or sunbathing on Caribbean islands, but there were plenty of visiting doctors around, happy to be accompanied on ward rounds and to give impromptu tutorials. For a small hospital of one surgical and two medical wards, there was a good range of presenting conditions to base my learning around. The nursing staff and allied health were all lovely and more than happy to have an extra person on board to teach, as well as just have a yarn with, as were the admin and staff at the clinical school. I was taken aback at how friendly and accommodating everyone was and how eager they were to have someone new on board.

On a typical day, I would check in with my consultant before rounds, where he’d point out interesting patients to see and topics to read up on. He also gave me tutorials whenever it was quiet, and was happy to answer any silly question under the sun. I would then go on a round with the doctor on call, review the patients and tag along while they clerked new ones.

Formal teaching aside, much of my time was spent just chatting to patients on the wards. Away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan hospitals, I was able to spend time refining my clinical skills and was afforded the pleasure of getting to know the patients better. During my time there, I heard tales that ranged from rambunctious grandchildren to malfunctioning tractors and treks in the Amazon. These encounters were immensely rewarding, and only later, after returning to Sydney, did I realize what a luxury they were.

Life after hours

Accommodation was in the old nursing quarters, located approximately 45 seconds away from ED, where the students, hospital staff and the odd ambo could freely mingle. Three other medical students from UNSW were doing rural placement with me, as well as students from other universities, allied health and nursing staff. This unlikely conglomerate of people gradually became a kind of nerdy happy family and we’d spend most evenings together in the living room, after whipping up culinary masterpieces in the kitchen. The facilities were clean and well kept, and it wasn’t long before it felt like home.

We had plenty of downtime, and kept amused by chilling in the living room, tanning by the pool, hitting the local gym and going for long bike rides around town. There was plenty of picturesque farmland to pedal past, the river was spectacular at dusk, and we would occasionally stumble upon the odd potato farm or cow. It was definitely a tough gig, but someone had to do it. The shopping centre had all the essentials (including a Woolies AND and a Coles, Maccas, a newsagency etc.), and was located reasonably close to the hospital, although I wouldn’t recommend walking. There was also an old-school cinema nearby which we definitely made a point to check out.

Once Friday night came around, there was a healthy selection of pubs to frequent and a few restaurants a short drive away. That is, if we weren’t huddled on the couch watching the tennis, or busting our brains in the library. Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay were both a short drive away, and weekends were spent frolicking on the beach, catching up with our rural colleagues and marveling at how uni could be this awesome.

While I’d arrived in Grafton a little bit scared, somewhat skeptical and a self-proclaimed city brat, I found myself on the last day clinging onto the doorframe, dreading my inevitable return to ‘the big smoke’. In those four weeks not only had I gained invaluable clinical experience but had made lifelong friends with whom I’d shared unforgettable experiences. Grafton had given me a taste of a way of life quite different to my own, and to be utterly honest, I absolutely loved it. Although next time, I would definitely be trading the train ride for the plane.  

image - Cathy's Grafton Adventure