Growing rural health research from the ground up

1 July 2019
Dubbo symposium inspires and celebrates regional researchers
For the first time, Dubbo hosted the annual Western NSW Health Research Network (WHRN) Symposium, bringing together key regional research leaders to drive home the importance of building research capacity in rural NSW.
Professor Tony Capon and Associate Professor Hamish McDougall

Professor Tony Capon and Associate Professor Hamish McDougall were among the symposiums impressive line-up of speakers and demonstrators.

The theme for this year's symposium, 'Wellbeing in the West: Growing health research from the ground up', saw an inspiring line-up of speakers present on important research topics that related to ways in which health organisations and academics can collaborate to tackle some of the big issues facing the region.

Among the esteemed keynotes was University of Sydney planetary health professor Tony Capon, who presented on the health of communities in years of drought or environmental pressures, arguing that if the environment is in good shape people have a better chance of staying well. 

"We need to keep our eye on the bigger picture because unhealthy, degraded natural systems ultimately have flow-on impacts for the health of all species," he said.

Associate Professor Hamish McDougall, who runs the University of Sydney's Virtual Reality Openlab, was also welcomed by the WHRN to showcase its work on virtual reality experiences in medicine.

Dr Rob Zielinski and Scott McLachlan

Dr Rob Zielinski (left) was awarded 2019 Clinical Research Leader of the Year.

Recognising rural research leaders

As well as inspiring rural research projects around Aboriginal health, community health in years of drought and virtual access to health care, the WHRN Symposium also recognised the hard work of dedicated clinicians and academics in the region.

Dr Rob Zielinski, Director of the Central West Cancer Care Centre’s Clinical Trials Unit and School of Rural Health alumnus, was awarded Clinical Research Leader of the Year for leading a NSW-first scheme to provide rural patients with access to new and potentially life-saving cancer treatments.

Penelope Monroe, a University of Sydney speech pathology researcher also won the best emerging research abstract for her project, MUSiCON: Using music to connect and improve brain health for individuals with dementia.

Other School of Rural Health (SRH) and University of Sydney research topics presented at the conference were:

  • digital health inequalities experienced by rural young people in navigating the health system in the digital age, presented by Dr Georgina Luscombe;
  • patients’ knowledge of the types, risk factors and measures to prevent hospital acquired infections in rural health settings in Australia, presented by Sandra Wharton on behalf of a collaborative research team from the University of Sydney, Western Sydney University and Western NSW Local Health District;
  • foot growth as a novel marker of early puberty, presented by Dr Helen Cheng as part of a multidisciplinary study led by Professor Kate Steinbeck on the effects of puberty hormones on adolescent behaviour, mood and wellbeing of young people in the Central West NSW; and
  • needs driven ECG interpretation training for urban and rural practitioners, presented by Dr Kam Wong.
Associate Professor Catherine Hawke

Catherine Hawke said the WHRN plays a vital role in driving community-led research projects across the Western region. Image courtesy of Daily Liberal.

Growing rural health research

WHRN chairwoman and SRH Associate Professor Catherine Hawke said the establishment of the WHRN in 2013 had resulted in an 'exponential rise' in research in the region.

“The WHRN encourages embedding rigorous high-quality research into health and health systems innovations; and provides a forum for clinicians and academics in Western NSW to network.

“This year’s symposium highlighted the great number of projects and the diversity of research in the region in a bid to improve health services – from qualitative projects through to clinical trials”, she said.

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