THE University of NSW will honour a commitment to offer the full six-year medical degree at Port Macquarie after intense lobbying.
There were fears the university could renege on its undertaking to provide the full medical degree here.
Concerns over courses were taken up by federal MPs Luke Hartsuyker and Dr David Gillespie, and by the Port Macquarie-Hastings mayor Peter Besseling.
President and Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Ian Jacobs subsequently announced that the state’s first full undergraduate medical degree in a regional centre will be offered in Port Macquarie next year.
The six-year medical program and allied health courses have always underpinned a collaborative project between the UNSW, the University of Newcastle and North Coast Institute of TAFE, which secured $20 million in federal funding.
The Port Macquarie Shared Health Research and Education Campus in Highfields Circuit is the result.
UNSW currently provides medical education for four years of a medical degree - years three to six - through its Rural Clinical School campuses in Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Albury, Griffith and Wagga Wagga.
Professor Jacobs said in the university had remained committed to offering a full six-year undergraduate degree in Port Macquarie.
But the Port News understands that was not always the case.
“UNSW is a leader in rural medicine, and has been since the launch of our Rural Clinical School in 2000,” Professor Jacobs said. “Retaining doctors in regional areas is a national priority.
“UNSW has had a long association with Port Macquarie and it is a partnership we value very highly.”
Dean of UNSW Medicine Professor Rodney Phillips said the faculty had undertaken an assessment of the new facility and what needed to be in place to offer the full six-year program.
“There are logistical issues still being discussed with our partners and other stakeholders, as some circumstances have changed since the project was first announced, but we are now satisfied that the program is ready for 2017,” he said.
“Our Port Macquarie rural campus has done an excellent job in training the next generation of rural and Indigenous doctors many of whom will go on to practise in rural and regional areas.
“Expanding our offering from four years to a full six-year undergraduate program builds on this success and we will continue to work with our partners and the community as we finalise our plans for 2017.”
UNSW Port Macquarie Rural Clinical School head of campus Associate Professor Sandy McColl was thrilled with the news.
“This green light is a culmination of years of work and it’s a culmination not just of all of us here at UNSW but everyone in the medical community and the Port Macquarie community at large who have supported us since we started in 2002,” he said.
“My big thanks to everyone who has been part of this and support us since we started.”
MPs send a strong message
THE people of the Port Macquarie area and the wider Mid-North Coast would take a very dim view if the full medical degree did not go ahead.
That was the message from Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker to the University of NSW.
He said there were great concerns the original plan to deliver the full medical degree might not go ahead.
“It is great to have that issue put to bed,” Mr Hartsuyker said.
Mr Hartsuyker represents the Cowper electorate, and if re-elected, will be the incoming member with responsibility for Port Macquarie on federal matters.
He said that prompted his interest in the UNSW issue.
Mr Hartsuyker was in touch with the Vice-Chancellor’s office and the Dean of UNSW Medicine Professor Rodney Phillips over the issue.
Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie said he had a full and frank discussion with UNSW about the history and commitments that previous administrators had made.
“It’s great to see the university is delivering on its promise,” he said.
Dr Gillespie said it was a very good outcome.
“It will be great for the UNSW as well as regional Australia to deliver a world renowned UNSW medical degree in a regional background where there they have already established an academically enviable record of producing incredibly well trained graduates in a regional setting,” he said.
Mayor: Course talks continue
THE University of NSW’s medical degree announcement is absolutely great news, the mayor says.
Cr Peter Besseling said it seemed the full medical degree was back on.
He recently wrote to UNSW president and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs outlining his concerns about changes to courses planned at the Port Macquarie Shared Health Research and Education Campus (SHREC) in Highfields Circuit.
The letter sought Professor Jacobs’ support to reconvene a steering committee, with representation from its original members, to consider and confirm future courses at the campus. The mayor will today meet with UNSW Dean of Medicine Professor Rodney Phillips to discuss the issues raised in the letter.
“I look forward to discussing the outcomes of what allied health courses may be provided for new students on the campus in the future,” Cr Besseling said.
The University of Newcastle in 2014 decided not to go ahead with occupational therapy and radiation therapy at the campus but offer a new midwifery degree and move the Bachelor of Nursing program from the Port Macquarie TAFE campus to the new facility.
The steering committee decided priority would be given to new courses including the full medical program and other allied programs.
The group supported the midwifery program, and only first year nursing students, who shared common courses with the midwifery program, to study from SHREC.
A decision was made to approach Charles Sturt University (CSU) about allied health courses.
CSU and UNSW are amid constructive discussions about using the new campus for two allied health programs.
Physiotherapy and exercise science will be added to CSU’s course offerings in Port Macquarie next year, subject to accreditation, and the university is amid negotiations about offering some or all of those programs at SHREC.