Monash students contribute to health care in the Indo-Pacific region

At Monash, we are focused on how we can improve human health, not only to live well but live well together to create healthy thriving communities.

33 senior Monash health students have recently returned from a four-week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam under the ‘Collaborative Indo-Pacific Healthcare Program’. The Monash University program gives health students across eight different disciplines the opportunity to contribute to the Indo-Pacific health arena and improve their own communication, confidence and collaborative skills.

Supported by the New Columbo Fund, the program involves orientation to the culture, language and health systems as well as placements across local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It also provides senior health students with the chance to learn about other health disciplines from their fellow students and provides an opportunity to work in multi-diciplinary teams in a cross-cultural context.

In one placement, students ate, slept and treated patients in the floating clinics that serve some of the poorest communities in Cambodia. The clinics are staffed by dental and medical staff and provide basic medical, dental and ante-natal care, with one clinic serving remote villagers on the river and another serving 'floating villages' on Tonle Sap lake. The students observed common conditions, including diarrhoea, skin rashes and diabetes, but also one case of leprosy.

The same students also visited isolated villages via bike to provide health education, nutritional supplements and to help the villagers clean their water filters, which use sand and rocks to filter out potential pathogens.

Another group of students in Cambodia provided health education to disadvantaged children and their families. A third group worked with an organisation that empowers children with disabilities.

The students were inspired by the dedication of the Cambodian healthcare teams and were reminded that access to healthcare is a basic human right.

Hirushi, one of the students who visited Cambodia in 2022 spoke positively about her experience in the program.

“This experience was filled with many opportunities to flourish in both my professional and personal identity. It has increased my understanding of culture and how it interplays with healthcare. I also got to learn about friendships and collaborating amongst different disciplines.”

The students visiting Vietnam were involved in a variety of different programs. One of these involved the creation of brochures and posters to teach families how to care for premature babies using ‘kangaroo care’, which involves carrying the baby close to the mother’s body to keep it warm if there is no incubator available.

Another project involved the production of an ‘ergonomic manual’ to improve the working conditions for garment factory workers and the development of a manual to assist teachers to include more creative ‘play’ in their lessons. Other students made first aid videos and developed a handbook on burnout, anxiety and depression.

One of the program leaders, lecturer Karen Richards said, “as an educator, it is very satisfying to see the students applying the theoretical knowledge they have learned in a 'real' context and adds to the development of our future healthcare workforce.”

The ‘Collaborative Indo-Pacific Healthcare Program’ has been run by the Faculty of Monash Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences since 2016 to give students challenging health immersion opportunities with a focus on broad interprofessional experiences and the bio-psycho-social determinants of health.

About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

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