Today was our last organised day of activities before having two days off to prepare for our presentations on Friday. We travelled a few more miles, this time to Larne Market Yard (bringing the tally to 695 miles) for a ‘Focus on the Farm Family’ event. This was part of an initiative run by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Rural Support, Health and Safety Executive and the Ulster Farmers Union, all bodies I have had some contact with over the course of the SSC, with the aim being health promotion among farmers in the local area. Each farmer attended a health check with the farm families health checks team, and now attends a monthly workshop on an issue pertinent to their health. Today’s presentation was by the GP Ruth and I were with last week, and he was trying to put across the point that the most valuable asset on the farm is not the machinery, land or livestock but the farmer themselves, with their wide skill set and experience. In true rural style everyone had a good feed which was an opportunity for chat, including to a lady who was involved in setting up Rural Support!
It’s hard to believe my time on this module is coming to an end. Apart from an excuse to make lots of baaa-d animal related puns, it has been a real opportunity for me to further my skills as a future doctor. As a doctor, I believe it is so important your services are accessible and acceptable to all of your patients, not just urban dwellers who have public transport links and the ability to take time off work readily for an appointment. However while your services should be equitable in that they are available to all, I have learnt that the health issues farmers in particular may have, and how they present, may be unique, and it is vital clinicians recognise this. Working on the farms and getting to know farmers individually has given me a truer insight into their lives, on a much deeper level than I could ever have got from reading the news or studying an article – when you hear someone talking about people they know personally who have been in farm accidents, or how the price of milk affects their own family, it is hard not to be affected. I am all too aware that I have had a really positive experience on the farms I have visited, but I am in no doubt that this is not an easy life, and with Brexit on the horizon things look set to remain uncertain. There’s been a certain camaraderie among the five of us studying the module, all to some extent taken out of our comfort zone yet working together to support and help each other throughout, and I know this ability to get along with colleagues will be vital in my future career. Team work and communication is just as vital on farms and in veterinary practices as in the hospital, and the ability to empathise with patients from all backgrounds will be vital for my future practice.
It’s almost time for my brief adventure into rural life and farming to end, and to swap yards for wards and waterproof trousers for scrubs. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole module, from watching calves being born to hearing farmers consult their GP to seeing farmers help members of their community through social farming, it has been an amazing experience. Perhaps being covered in all sorts of animal bodily fluids is what I will miss least about the module! I definitely have a few extra skills (still some perfection of them necessary!) to add to my CV – including milking, cow/sheep counting and predicting poo trajectories. I have got to appreciate parts of Northern Ireland I had never visited before, and enjoyed uninterrupted views of sunrises, sunsets and rolling hills while surrounded by an array of animals (an expert farmer, after all, is out standing in his field). I have learnt so much more than purely about the many challenges facing Northern Ireland’s farmers today, and their way of life. I have learnt a lot about what should be valued about our rural communities – their generosity, kindness and straight talking, which combine to give a spirit of helpfulness that will not see anyone stuck. As I go back into hospitals, I’m going to try and take their attitude with me, and so recreate a little of the country in the clinic!
Thanks should go to everyone who has been involved in this moo-dule and made it such a great experience – it truly has been a baa-rilliant insight into the agriculture industry. Now it’s time for me to do some work, and prepare my presentation for Friday!