Torres Strait doctor testing Rocketship efficacy

Dr Allison Hempenstall plans to test Rocketship efficacy

by David Gilchrist

Educator and medical doctor, Dr Allison Hempenstall is planning to examine the effectiveness of Rocketship’s online health education training model. Her study will look at the perceived quality and efficacy of Rocketship training.

Dr Hempenstall is a fellow with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) and has been working throughout the remote Torres Strait in Australia for the past three years. Her latest project is set to discover if the model of teaching that utilises educators in Australia providing training for doctors in Pacific countries with trainees involved in a range of ‘very different circumstances in the Pacific.’ It is a strategy that has become an important training model during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

She explained that beyond potentially providing value data to Rocketship, her evaluative research will enable her to complete her Masters of Clinical Education.

Although Allison is still designing her study, she expects that her initial small study will provide an insight into the perceived effectiveness of the curriculum and explore if curriculum objectives are being met. Although she is still developing the approach her study will take, Dr Hempenstall expects she will gather research data by interviewing graduates. Those interviews will provide her with trainee perspectives about their experiences of the programme and how that perspective has translated into perceived improved quality of primary care.

Medicine and Teaching part of family history

Allison's love for teaching drew her to take up her Masters study. ‘My grandfather was a primary school teacher, my mother was a high school teacher and now I teach medical students,’ she explained.

Dr Hempenstall’s career path towards medicine began with a biomedical science honours degree at Bond University on the Gold Coast.

“I didn't ever put the pressure on myself to get into medicine. I did a year of lab-based physiology and pharmacology research that made me realise that I could do this for the rest of my career and be very satisfied. But I didn't think it would push me beyond my comfort zone,” she said.  That is why she went on to study medicine.

Allison completed her MD at the at the University of Melbourne, her Diploma in Tropical Medicine in Tanzania and Uganda through the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – climbing Mt Kilimanjaro along the way. That eventually lead to her work on Thursday Island.

Lessons from the Torres Strait

Overlooking Thursday Island - image from Feral Arts

Overlooking Thursday Island - image couresy of Feral Arts

It is a location to which Allison is happy to return. Early in her career, as a junior doctor she did a Thursday Island stint that she says saw her ‘fall in love with the people and the place. I just think it is the most magical place in Australia.’ There is, she said, a warm and welcoming culture of Torres Strait Islanders as well as the ‘additional complexities of providing healthcare across scattered islands across a geographically remote area. And then being on the doorstep of Papua New Guinea.’ She said that means providing healthcare to PNG nationals also.

That experience provided her with an insight into the heartbreaking inequities of healthcare that occur even between remote communities where the healthcare she can provide to Australian citizens living in the Torres Strait who benefit from access to Medicare and the potential to access tertiary medical facilities in Cairns if required and the limited care she is able to provide PNG locals that access remote Torres Strait clinics but do not have access to the facilities and services offered through the Australian healthcare system.

'Patients deserve the highest standard of healthare no matter where they live.’

She recognised the problem of health inequities in 2019, writing in an health opinion article in The Guardian newspaper, ‘patients deserve the highest standard of healthare no matter where they live.’

Working on Thursday Island has also spiked Allison’s professional interest because she says that from a medical perspective she works in what she sees as a ‘complex melting pot of incredibly interesting diseases.’ Then with trademark optimism she questioned, ‘why would I want to live and work anywhere else?’

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Cover image copyright Feral Art
Opening video copyright David Gilchrist