Student doctor Mat Doyle from Wollongong University is enjoying life in Brunswick Heads with 15-month-old Amalee and wife Sammy.
Student doctor Mat Doyle from Wollongong University is enjoying life in Brunswick Heads with 15-month-old Amalee and wife Sammy.

Mat wins 'jackpot'

Mat Doyle is a fourth-year medical student at Wollongong University who felt like he’d ‘won the jackpot’ when he found out he’d be moving his family to Brunswick Heads for a 12-month rural placement.


“We’d never been to Brunswick Heads but we’d been to Byron Bay and loved the area and we were very happy when we found out we’d be moving here for a year,” he said.


Mat is part of a program run by the Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health in Murwillumbah (NRUDRH) that exposes eight full-time medical students from the Graduate School of Medicine in Wollongong to rural general practice in Brunswick Heads, Mullumbimby, Cabarita and Murwillumbah.


Mat and fellow student doctor Joline Bohne, who both commenced their placement at Brunswick Heads Medical Centre in July, spend two days in general practice under the supervision of Dr Marc Heyning and three days at Murwillumbah District Hospital.


“This is my final year, so it’s a pretty exciting time and a very steep learning curve,” Mat said. “I must admit that I wasn’t really keen on general practice when I was studying, but this experience has made me rethink because it has been a lot better than I expected and I find the work really rewarding.


“The vast majority of patients have been great about having a student doctor too – I think it works both ways because we have more time to spend with the patients and can really get immersed in their history and listen to their concerns.”


Uprooting his young family, including wife Sammy and 15-month-old daughter Amalee from Wollongong was a challenge, but they’re enjoying the lifestyle and the hospitality.


“We’ve gone from a two-bedroom apartment in Wollongong to a spacious house just over the bridge in Ocean Shores, Mat can ride to work and we are loving being close to the beach,” Sammy said.


“All the neighbours came to welcome us in the first week here, which just wouldn’t happen in the city, and the gas man even made a special trip out at 8pm to make sure we had hot water for our first morning, which was amazing.”


Mat and fellow student doctor Joline are part of the second cohort of students in the NRUDRH program.


Of the eight students in the first cohort, six have applied to have a rural internship, which may lead them to being rural medical practitioners, according to NRUDRH’s Student Co-ordinator and Facility Manager, Naree Hancock.


NRUDRH places medical students from Sydney, Wollongong, Western Sydney, Bond and Griffith universities, and nursing and allied health students from eight different universities.


These students are placed in general practice, hospital and community health centres between Tweed Heads and Mullumbimby.


 “We are pleased to report that over the last 12 months we have had over 800 weeks of student placements for all health disciplines, including medicine, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, radiography, speech pathology and dietetics,” Ms Hancock said.


“This year we are expecting to expand to 1000 student weeks and believe this will also lead to higher rural retention.”


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