Prof Donna Mak leaving for Mt Barnett Station

Michael Genoni at Mimbi Caves

Second year students from the Notre Dame Medical School have recently returned from their Kimberley placement brimming with stories and experiences.

This year, 93 students headed north with the school’s Domain Chair of Population and Preventative Health, Prof Donna Mak, the architect of the program, as well as the support of Rural Health West.

Unlike clinical placements in the later years of the medical training, these students trek thousands of kilometres from Perth to understand something of the joys and challenges of life in some of the state’s most remote communities.

Students are billeted across the Kimberley and are mentored by host families. They can find themselves wrangling cattle, children, and everything in between.


Tom Godfrey flying over Derby

This year, Derby resident Sara Hennessy showed a group of students how to catch and handle mud crabs, while students who attended the Djugerari school discovered that a guitar and a song can work wonders. For another group of students at Fitzroy Crossing, lending a final hand in the relocation of human remains, disturbed by the 2017 flooding of the Fitzroy River, gave them deep insight into the lives and culture of the Fitzroy community.


All the time, they listened to what residents of the region had to say about their lives and their health.

Donna said that this was the biggest lesson to learn.

“It’s learning firsthand what it is like to live in this land. It gives students a sense of their own strengths and the strengths of the people who they have lived and worked alongside for eight days,” she said.

Charlotte Boyle at the Mowanjum Arts Centre

“It’s all about context. We can teach the science of medicine but students need to be exposed and start thinking about the art of medicine. To develop an understanding of the social determinants of health, you first have to walk in someone else’s shoes. To discover how to treat certain populations, you need to listen to what they want from their health professionals.”

“It is a different way of teaching. Before students begin their clinical journey and learn how to work in these settings, I strongly believe that students need to learn how to live in these settings.”

Ultimately the program aims to encourage recruitment and retention of doctors in these remote WA locations but even for those who decide to stay in the city to practice, an understanding of the emotional toll and the logistics of receiving healthcare far from home and family informs a doctor’s practice for the rest of their career.

Pictures courtesy Kate Ferguson and Rural Health West

Elizabeth Tierney, Michael Genoni and Joshua Briotti at Mimbi Caves

Michael Hussey at Nerrimah Station

Kimberley landscape

Juan Stephen at the Mowanjum Arts Centre

Jessica Watson, Tom Godfrey and Annabel Marshall mud crabbing in Derby

Jessica Pattrick at Roebuck Plains

Derby Rodeo

Derby Jetty

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