As a professional group in Australia, doctors are deemed to have the highest level of interest in the arts. Lawyers come a close second, but doctors hold the number one spot, according to medical publisher, Australian Doctor.
Within the field of arts and health, there is a specialist area of study called Medical Humanities, a term which denotes an interdisciplinary field of medicine that includes the humanities (philosophy, religion, history, ethics), social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, health geography) and the arts (literature, theatre, film, visual art, music) and their application to medical education and practice.
In the UK, US and Australia, medical humanities training is focused on assisting doctors to develop strong diagnostic and communications skills, as well as providing doctors with lifestyle balance and resilience to manage the frequently stressful aspects of their profession. In rural and regional areas, this can be exacerbated by geographic isolation.
As a strong proponent of arts and health, it has been exciting to see UNSW Rural Clinical School in Port Macquarie bring the arts directly on to campus through the commission of a Hello Koalas sculpture, Dr Stu Dent.
UNSW’s Port Macquarie campus services
co-ordinator Julianne Weatherly said it was “pretty special for UNSW Rural Clinical School to have its own Hello Koalas sculpture, and a great way to bring awareness to both the training of undergraduate medical students in rural areas and Port Macquarie”.
“The koala is a strong rural symbol, so this is a wonderful opportunity to let people know that you can get a world-class medical education doing exactly the same degree as you would in the city, but with the lifestyle benefits of living in the country.”
Since 2000, the Rural Clinical School has been the key for UNSW to redress the imbalance in the proportion of urban and rural students undertaking medicine.
73% of current UNSW Rural Clinical School students have indicated their intent to practice in a rural or regional setting, which is great news for rural communities.
“In Port Macquarie, we have so many amazing doctors who give their time to help educate the next generation of doctors, many of whom have completed their studies rurally and returned to practice here,” Julianne said.
Artist Pauline Roods is responsible for creating many of the character-based Hello Koalas sculptures, including Mack the Surf Lifesaver and Ranger Riley, roaming ambassador for threatened species in NSW National Parks.
“I wanted Dr Stu Dent to fit into a lecture room alongside other student doctors and seem like he or she could actually stand up and walk alongside them,” Pauline said.
Dr Stu Dent is not identified as either male or female, but Pauline has ensured the koala looks bright-eyed but with a calm expression on its face, befitting a doctor.
The traditional doctor’s lab coat is worn over the doctor’s scrubs, with joggers on the back paws, and a 3D stethoscope around the neck.
On the back of the lab coat, Pauline has created a class graduation photo in which any would-be doctor can picture themselves.
This image also identifies Dr Lesley Forster, Associate Dean Rural Health and Head of the UNSW Rural Clinical School, who has led the school since 2009. Under her guidance, it has become the only G08 university running the full medical program in a rural/regional location.
By leaving the graduating students’ faces blank, but including people of varying heights, build, skin and hair colour, Pauline reflects the possibilities ahead for everyone.
She has also encompassed the UNSW Crest, the Rural Clinical School’s name and each of its campuses across NSW at Port Macquarie, Albury/Wodonga, Coffs Harbour, Griffith and Wagga Wagga.
Students were closely involved in the design process, from debating Dr Stu Dent’s choice of socks to concocting an intriguing name. Their excitement was evident at the sculpture’s unveiling. “They went back to their childhoods and really played along with the character, rather than seeing a statue,” said Pauline.
“That’s the beauty of the Hello Koalas, which appeal to all ages. Each has its own story, and people remember them.
“It’s more than being aesthetically pleasing. It’s about exciting people’s imagination and keeping the fantasy alive … bringing everyone down that rabbit hole and having a visit with Alice.”
And there is a personal link between the UNSW Rural Clinical School and koalas, with the school having been home to “a wonderful mother koala for the past 12 years”, who only recently died. It is from photos of this koala that Pauline took some of the characteristics for Dr Stu Dent.
That, in turn, is a reminder of why the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail was created – to raise awareness of the importance of protecting our koalas and our environment.
Dr Stu Dent is one of 24 Hello Koalas sculptures participating in an exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney from 4th October to 30th November to promote wildlife conservation.
In a pre-event post on Facebook during September, social media reach exceeded 400,000 people, with over 17,000 people registering to come and see the Hello Koalas!
In December, Dr Stu Dent will resume residence at UNSW Rural Clinical School, Shared Health Research and Education Centre (SHREC), 20 Highfields Circuit, Port Macquarie.
Thanks to writer Alison Houston for collaborating on this article.