Executive Committee update August 2016

Photo: Students with NRHSN 'founding father' Emeritus Professor Max Kamien, long-time NRHSN supporter Professor Paul Worley from Flinders University and retired public servant Margaret Norington. Margaret is holding a copy of the 'Green Book' from 1994 which recommended federal support for Rural Health Clubs.Photo: Students with NRHSN 'founding father' Emeritus Professor Max Kamien, long-time NRHSN supporter Professor Paul Worley from Flinders University and retired public servant Margaret Norington. Margaret is holding a copy of the 'Green Book' from 1994 which recommended federal support for Rural Health Clubs.

The history of the NRHSN

Early stirrings

In the 1980’s rural students were underrepresented in undergraduate cohorts at Australian universities. Rural students were less likely to consider careers in health for a variety reasons. For example, they lacked career counselling services and had fewer academic resources to prepare them for admission to medical school.  

These issues started to get some media coverage in the mid-1980s but the impetus for change came in the late 1980’s as a result of two key events on opposite sides of the country – a state election in Western Australia (WA) and the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Doctors Dispute in 1987. 

During the 1985 WA state election the Minister for Health launched an Inquiry into the Recruitment and Retention of Country Doctors in Western Australia which made a number of recommendations including affirmative rural student selection, decentralized medical education, and the creation of rural student clubs.

These events placed rural health on the national agenda and in response, the Federal Government added a Rural Incentives Program to their General Practice Reform Strategy of 1992. At the medical education level, a number of initiatives were developed in the 1990s to encourage students to pursue careers in rural practice including the Rural Undergraduate Support and Coordination program and the University Departments of Rural Health.

The establishment of Rural Health Clubs

It was in the context of these rural health initiatives that the first university student Rural Health Clubs were formed. Professor Max Kamien was part of the drive to set up a rural student club, and the idea was driven by Dr Bill Jackson and his wife Doris Jackson.

SPINRPHEX, Students and Practitioners Interested iN Rural Practice Health Education Xcetera, was the first Rural Health Club, formed in the early 1990s at the University of Western Australia medical school. The goal of the club was to promote rural practice in the university and in the further community. Soon after, other medical schools across the nation established Rural Health Clubs.

In a 1994 report the Rural Undergraduate Steering Committee reported that rural clubs “are a relatively inexpensive way to encourage interest in rural medicine amongst undergraduate students since a small subsidy will produce a multiplying effect. The Committee believes that all medical students who wish to join should have access to the clubs, and that this be assisted by a small amount from the funds allocated to each faculty”.

Kalgoorlie and beyond – the birth of the student network

During the first National Undergraduate Rural Health Conference in Kalgoorlie in 1995 it was decided to create a national umbrella body for the student clubs – the National Rural Health Network (NRHN), now known as the National Rural Health Student Network. The NRHN consisted of representatives from each club and an executive committee, and was established with two broad aims:

  • To provide positive rural experiences for medical, nursing and allied health students with the hope of encouraging rural practice in the future
  • To raise awareness of rural health issues among students and the wider community

The Network Today

The National Rural Health Student Network (NRHSN) is now Australia’s only multi-disciplinary student health network, bringing together people studying medicine, nursing and allied health, encouraging them to pursue rural health careers.

It has more than 9,000 members who belong to 28 university Rural Health Clubs throughout the nation, offering rural experience events, career information, clinical skills workshops and professional development activities designed to encourage rural careers, The network also provides a social base for country students moving to the city for study, city students interested in learning more about rural health, and students on rural placement. The NRHSN itself hosts meetings each year for Rural Health Club leaders, featuring a range of speakers and sessions designed to engage and inspire attendees. 

You can find out more about the NRHSN’s history here.

What have we been up to?

  • 20-22 July – Ankur Verma, NRHSN Allied Health Officer presented on ‘The role of Physician Assistants in addressing health workforce need in rural Australia’ and ‘Preventative healthcare, empowered and educated communities, the healthcare system that we want to work’ at the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health’s Are you remotely interested? Conference
  • 4-6 August – Rebecca Irwin, NRHSN Chair presented at the Provincial Surgeons Conference
  • 5 August – Blair Burke, NRHSN Medical Officer presented at RUSTICA Rural Health Club’s Rural Networking Dinner and 21st Birthday celebration
  • 12-14 August – Ankur Verma, NRHSN Allied Health Officer presented at OUTLOOK Rural Health Club’s 21st Birthday Celebration event

What’s coming up?

  • 6-7 September – Blair Burke, NRHSN Medical Officer will present on ‘A future innovative healthcare system’ at the 5th Rural and remote health scientific symposium
  • 14-17 September – Danielle Dries, NRHSN Indigenous Health Officer will present on ‘culturally competent health professionals for the future health workforce’ at the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) Conference
  • 18-21 September – Blair Burke, NRHSN Medical Officer will present on ‘providing healthy living and health career promotion to rural high school students’ at the Public Health Association of Australia conference
  • 29 September – 1 October – William Moorhead, NRHSN Community and Advocacy Officer will present on ‘the Innovative Healthcare System we want to work in’ at GP16, the RACGP Conference for General Practice
  • 12-14 October – Danni-Lee Dean, NRHSN Nursing and Midwifery Officer will present on ‘going to extremes – how isolation, geography and climate build resourcefulness and innovation in healthcare’ at the CRANAplus Conference for remote health professionals

Let us know!

We’d love to hear from you. If you have any comments, questions or feedback you can contact us on executivecommittee@nrhsn.org.au:


Rebecca Irwin


Community and Advocacy Officer

William Moorhead

Vice Chair

Joshua Mortimer


Indigenous Health Officer

Danielle Dries


Gabriela Kelly


Medical Officer

Blair Burke

Allied Health Officer

Ankur Verma


Nursing and Midwifery Officer

Danni-Lee Dean











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