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Foundations for the future

Posted on : 29 October 2015

WORDS: Nicola Conville

(This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of RAS Times)

Founded in 2010, the Royal Agricultural Society Foundation (RASF) Rural Scholarship program has helped over 300 students achieve their educational and career goals. We catch up with four past recipients to find out how the scholarship impacted their lives.

Thomas Dewhurst, mechanical engineer, Cowra

I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Sydney. With two younger sisters in school at the time, money wasn’t exactly plentiful. I was working three shifts at a bar during the week and my studies began to suffer. Receiving the RASF Rural Scholarship meant I could cut back shifts and settle into a better rhythm at Uni.

After finishing my degree I got a job in Cowra working for an engineering firm that manufactures farming machinery. I was raised on a farm and always used to look at things and think; "this could be designed a bit differently." I have always been mechanically minded and interested in how things work. I enjoy making improvements to designs and coming up with new ideas to increase efficiencies.

We recently finished the design of a brand-new machine that is now in manufacture. It was the first major project that I was involved in and I'm really looking forward to seeing it completed and hearing how it goes. I think seeing that finished product and knowing that it serves its intended purpose will be what I find most enjoyable. I'm quite new to the job so I am still learning - every day I’m doing something new.

I haven't lived in Cowra very long and didn't know anyone when I moved here. But I am slowly making friends and have joined the local rugby club. Getting involved in sports is always a great way to meet people. What do I enjoy about rural living? Not being in Sydney traffic! There's a good feeling of community and it doesn't take long to become part of it.

Heidi Goldsmith, doctor, Newcastle

After doing a nursing degree and spending three years in that field, I decided to go back to university to study medicine. I've always been interested in healthcare and thoroughly enjoyed nursing, but I wanted to know more.

Being a full-time student in any degree requires a lot of study, but medicine is particularly demanding. Getting financial assistance through the Rural Scholarship program allowed me to commit to my studies more than I could have if I had to work as well. I am studying again in preparation for an exam with the Royal College of Physicians so I can become a paediatrician.

Since moving to the Hunter Region, I have been working at Newcastle and Maitland hospitals as well as teaching medical students. I spend a lot of time working or studying, but I do get out and socialise when possible. My job offers great variety. I love the challenge of meeting a new patient and getting to know them - you need to be a bit of a detective which I find really satisfying. I also like organising quality follow-ups, so that when people get home they stay there for as long as possible rather than coming back into hospital again.

My family live on a farm in Coonamble. My husband is from a farming family too. My goal is to work in general paediatrics in a rural or regional town because then I can treat a wide variety of patients and live rurally. I enjoy living in Newcastle. While it's nice to have all those city conveniences on hand it's not a necessity for me. What I like most about rural living is the lifestyle, the lack of traffic, the sense of community and things like knowing your local butcher. It's a more relaxed way of living – it's what I know and what makes me tick.

Lachlan Patterson, junior rural business lawyer, Sydney

I grew up on a farm in Canowindra. My father died when I was in year 12, so financial support for my education was minimal. I studied a Bachelor of Economics and Laws at the University of New England in Armidale, but came home to help out on the farm and studied off campus. Receiving the RASF Rural Scholarship meant I could go back to Armidale for the final year of my studies.

After university, I went on to do a graduate diploma in legal practice through ANU. As part of my diploma I did an 80-day placement with JMA Legal and was rotated around their offices in Cootamundra, Gundagai and Sydney. A lot of the work is centred on farmers and rural communities. Now I work at JMA Legal full-time and am based in the Sydney office, but I travel to Gundagai and Cootamundra frequently.

I really like going down to Gundagai; it's very difficult to attract solicitors to work there, so I feel I'm making a difference to the community. We've been doing some pro bono work. It's very satisfying helping people out with their problems.

My family's stud farm is called Kinellar. Here, we breed White Suffolk and Poll Dorset rams which we bring to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. I'm still very involved in that. I go back to the farm at least every second week. I am very busy but I like it that way. Sydney is good but getting out of Sydney is better.

What I enjoy most about my career is being involved with the agricultural side of things and learning how farmers structure their business. For instance, I enjoy being connected and the fact that JMA Legal is a rural firm helping rural communities. I also love the community aspect of country living. In the future I would like to be a lawyer and have a small farm on the side.

Getting the scholarship made it possible for me to complete my education. If I hadn't had that support I don't think I would have got the same quality of degree or experience.

Rebekah Howarth, community pharmacist, Gunnedah

Before starting my Bachelor of Pharmacy at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, I took a gap year so I could work and save to help cover the costs of studying. I supported myself financially throughout university and, while it was difficult, I am proud that I did. Receiving the scholarship really helped, especially after my savings were depleted.

After my degree, I obtained full registration as a pharmacist. I am currently working as a community pharmacist in my hometown of Gunnedah. I am also completing medication management accreditation to become a consultant pharmacist and visit patients in their homes.

Pharmacists are primary health care providers, even more so in rural areas where GP numbers are limited. Patients come for advice before they visit a doctor, or when they cannot get an appointment. We are approachable, accessible, and ease the burden on rural health services.

As well as working as a community pharmacist, I am involved with the local Physical Culture club. I teach dance classes to 5 to 8 year-olds, as well as being a participant and committee member.

I like the clinical side of my work, but what I love most is building relationships with patients and providing continuity of care. To me, that is the definition of rural pharmacy practice. It's very humbling to have someone come into the pharmacy and ask specifically for your advice in regard to their health.

There is a sense of community in Gunnedah. Everyone knows everyone, and nowhere is too far from home. Not everything is open on Sundays, and that's ok.

I enjoy my job very much. Getting to this point has been an expensive endeavour, and receiving the RASF Rural Scholarship really encouraged and helped support me.