Picture the scene: eager, fresh faced and raring to go third year medical student jumps into her car and begins the first trip of the module (74 miles and counting!), only to be stopped 300 yards down the road while the neighbouring farmer moves his herd of cattle. An appropriate start, perhaps, to this module in rural health! After a short delay where my little car was surrounded by various Fresians, none of whom were in any rush to go anywhere, I was on my way to the Ulster Hospital, to meet the other students on the module and our module coordinator.
None of us studying the module are ‘townies’, and so we reflect the population of Northern Ireland as a whole – where we were told a staggering 86% of the population are classed as ‘rural dwellers’. This really struck me – the implications are clear, including access to education, healthcare and general services. We were given an introduction to the topic of rural health (defined as the interdisciplinary study of health and health care delivery in rural environments), and considered in brief some of the issues we’ll be faced with over the next three weeks. A representative from the Ulster Farmers Union then came to tell us a little background information on farming in Northern Ireland.
I’m already feeling a lot of sympathy and empathy with farmers and their challenging lifestyle, not least the fact that deep rural areas often have poor mobile phone coverage and broadband, given that my own land line and therefore broadband at home haven’t been working for three days! I’m really excited to see what the rest of the module has in store – the opportunity to spend time on working farms, with a GP and at a veterinary practice to see what the provision of healthcare for rural dwellers is really like. I’m keen to find out if our society really is ‘rural proof’, which from what I know so far I suspect not, and to hearing the opinions of those living in rural areas. Or put simply, I want to get a sense of the ‘mooo-d’!