By CRAIG McTEAR
ONE day, your life could be in their hands.
Tanya Siford (Nambucca Heads), Lucy Kelly (Boambee), Alison Mitchell (Coffs Harbour) and Rowen Fowler (Grafton) represent the future of Australian medicine, and they're sharpening their scalpels at a new $3 million facility in Coffs Harbour.
The fourth-year medical students and their colleagues stole the show at yesterday's opening of the University of NSW's rural clinical school at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus.
"It's state-of-the-art. This is as good as you get in Sydney," Lucy said.
"For me, it's the experience of being able to come up to a rural clinical school, and it has great facilities.
"It provides a site for us to have our theory classes," Tanya said.
"Before, we had to steal space from clinical activities at the hospital. This is a dedicated facility for learning and has dedicated computer and clinical skills labs.
"We get a more realistic spectrum of the patients we'll deal with, compared to a lot of hospitals in Sydney."
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, who did the honours yesterday, bestowed some fatherly advice on all of the students.
"As a politician, I enjoy a low public standing. As future doctors, you will enjoy high public standing. Never do anything to detract from the high standing that medicine enjoys," he said.
"Medicine is not just a job. It's a vocation. They have a calling to serve the community."
Mr Abbott said the university campus was important for the region because 'good health services are an essential part of a flourishing community'.
Coffs Harbour already had a good hospital and it was appropriate for the city to be a hub for medical education.
He described rural clinical schools as 'the beacons' of his Government's commitment to rural health, and the Coffs Harbour example would make 'a big difference' to doctor shortages in regional areas.
The member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, was effusive in his praise of Mr Abbott, describing him as 'a great advocate for Health' and, controversially, 'the best friend Medicare has ever had'.
The new campus includes a lecture theatre, two tutorial rooms, a skills laboratory and a computer laboratory, video conferencing facilities and office space.
The university says there are 12 fourth-year and seven fifth-year undergraduate medical students based in the Coffs Harbour area full-time this year, along with an average of three sixth-year students rotating every six weeks.