Dane Lohan operating

Baptism of fire

University of Newcastle medicine student Dane Lohan, is driven to use his skills to help the world’s disadvantaged, after seeing first-hand during a practical placement in a rural South African hospital, the positive impact of quality healthcare on the isolated community.

“I have been inspired by my experience in South Africa and in the next five years I would like to use my skills to volunteer for Medecins Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders, and help provide emergency healthcare to those effected by war or natural disasters,” Dane said.

For two months in late 2010, the 24-year-old Bachelor of Medicine student put his skills, learned in a theoretical setting at the University of Newcastle, to practise in challenging conditions, working alongside the medical staff of Tonga Hospital, in the rurally isolated South African region of Nkomazi in the Mpumalanga Province, an area that is more than 450 km, or a six hour car journey, from the South African capital, Johannesburg.

“Tonga is a disadvantaged region with major barriers to healthcare and significant health issues including high rates of HIV, Tuberculosis and other infectious diseases,” explained Dane.

“On placement I witnessed first-hand the burden of healthcare in order to service a wide population with incredibly difficult to treat chronic illness, and was exposed to a healthcare setting very different to what I would normally experience in Australia. I also had an opportunity to connect to the community, meeting with a youth group to discuss things like their schooling and spirituality, as well as attending an outreach clinic in a nearby town.

“I was given a lot of support from both my lecturers at uni and from Tonga Hospital, and feel the placement was an experience that will be of benefit to me personally and professionally and has put me on the right path to build my career as a doctor.”

It was a kind of baptism of fire for the then third-year medical student, who worked under the guidance of the Tonga Hospital’s dedicated staff, assisting in medical procedures such as spinal anaesthesia and caesarian sections, while working in the hospital’s theatre, casualty and outpatients.

“Having mostly completed theoretical components in the degree program at that point, the practical experience was extremely useful for developing my understanding of practising medicine. The caesarian sections were perhaps the most significant, as I was part of the on-call team for emergency caesarian sections, and assisted with all caesarian sections in my last few weeks, and even helped with one caesarean delivery in the last few minutes of the placement,” Dane said.

“The placement also broadened my procedural skills, gave me an opportunity to work as a valued team member, to improve my work ethic, learn communication skills and speak in a different language, although poorly, and gave me a chance to travel.”

Last year Dane was awarded the 2011 Work Integrated Learning Award by the University of Newcastle’s Office for the Advancement of Engaged Learning. The annual awards recognise excellence in Work Integrated Learning (WIL), or cooperative learning, and are awarded to students and staff, whose teaching and learning experience has been enhanced by their participation in engaged and cooperative learning.

Creating career-ready graduates is a strategic aim of the University. The University had a strategic aim of including WIL opportunities in more than 70 per cent of undergraduate programs by 2011.

“We have now exceeded this target, and now more than 90 per cent of our undergraduate programs and a large number of our postgraduate programs, now include an opportunity for students to gain vital practical skills that are complementary to their university studies,” Pro Vice-Chancellor (External Relations) Professor Stephen Crump, said.

“The feedback we get from students who take part in WIL is overwhelmingly positive, with most students saying their participation in the program has placed them ahead of the pack in today’s competitive job market.

“For the University, WIL presents an excellent opportunity to network with the businesses, industry and community who hire our graduates, and ensures that the University is better placed to meet the changing needs of its community.

“Feedback from the businesses and industry who host our students, is also overwhelmingly positive with most saying their operations have benefited from an injection of fresh ideas from the students, as well as having direct access to the best and brightest local graduates for recruitment.”

Nominations for the 2012 WIL Awards close on Friday September 14 at 5pm. A student and staff winner is awarded from each of the University’s five faculties. The winner receives a certificate and $1,000. University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Caroline McMillen will award the winners at a ceremony to be held at the University Gallery on Tuesday 23 October, from 5.30pm.

For nomination forms and information, visit the Work Integrated Learning website or email the team.

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