Covid-19 pandemic and recent flash flooding have not stopped Australian and Timorese NGO Maluk Timor graduating 24 candidates in the Family Medicine Programme.
The post-graduate students are the fourth and largest cohort to complete training designed through collaboration with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS).
Medical Director Dr Jeremy Beckett said that graduating from the intensive course was remarkable. ‘It was a surprising achievement. Even though Timor-Leste faces many challenges that have been further complicated by Covid-19 and floods, we’ve been able to graduate this fourth cohort.’
Dr Beckett said the students were supported by six Timorese clinical educators that on returning from working with an Australian AUSMAT team, went straight on to work as examiners for the trainees.
Critical to the success of the programme is the support from the Guido Valadares National Hospital, Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Dr Beckett said the support of these organisations and the Timorese clinical educators meant Maluk Timor was able to graduate a cohort, ‘which is one of the largest Family Medicine cohorts in the Asia-Pacific,’ and the largest number of Maluk Timor graduands since the course started in 2015.
The Covid-19 pandemic threatened the training programme as it has seen Timor-Leste face almost 8000 confirmed cases and 18 deaths between 3 January 2020 and 9 June 2021.Through that, a total of 81,806 vaccine doses have been administered.
The training face more difficulty when April brought exceptional flash floods that inundated Timor-Leste’s capital city, Dili and other population centres. The floods claimed many lives, caused the evacuation of around 3,100 people in Dili alone and affected at least 33,000 households across the country.
After running for 5 years, the Family Medicine programme is undergoing a redesign that will enable stakeholders like Maluk Timor to collaborate with other stakeholders to ensure that the course remains up-to-date and has a sustainable pathway forward.
When the course started in 2015, Australian and Timorese NGO Maluk Timor, motivated to advance primary healthcare in Timor-Leste, took on the training role after Rocketship provide technical support to Timor-Leste’s Family Medicine Programme.
Funded by the Australian Government, the programme was then designed in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e, and has been overseen by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.Dr Beckett says
the programme has benefitted from intensive involvement by international clinical supervisors who volunteer their time in Timor-Leste. However, he worries that current funding schemes cannot accommodate a paid workforce of the size required to continue to provide clinical training.He says a future for the
programme that includes greater engagement with local clinical educators is an important goal. Dr Beckett said, ‘Within the last 9 months the Timorese clinical educators have become central to the programme. The more we’ve involved them the more they’ve added value and learnt about what the current situation is like and what’s needed.’
Although that transition to Timorese clinical educators taking over much of the training is a long-term goal because there are currently too few local clinical educators, Dr Beckett said the growing numbers of graduates means training is in ‘a very pleasing transition phase.’
Dr Beckett said that to make the necessary transition so local educators will be sufficiently trained and be in large enough numbers to take over the largest share of responsibility for post-graduate training might take a decade.
STAYING THE COURSE
It’s taught us a lot as human beings about life, about pain, about suffering and about joy …
Dr Jeremy Beckett remains true to his faith, pragmatic approach and altruistic ideals, saying that he and his wife Dr Bethany Beckett are willing to stick to the task as long as they are needed.
Five years ago, the Western Australian GP and his wife Dr Bethany Beckett moved their young family to Timor-Leste to, ‘contribute something that would be professionally challenging and satisfying.’
The Becketts found that the more they looked at Timor-Leste, the more it made sense: because they could easily maintain their Australian medical registration and their children could go to an international school. Timor-Leste is also a place where their skills would be of genuine use.
Reflecting on his time in Timor-Leste Dr Beckett added, ‘I think professionally it’s been good. I think personally it’s taught us a lot as human beings about life, about pain, about suffering and about joy and how to find joy in the midst of difficult times. How to be patient and how to be resilient. It has become part of our family story now.’