Vol. 20 No 1 | Autumn 2018
Stranger in paradise, medicine on Malolo
Prof Mike O’Connor AM

This article is 6 years old and may no longer reflect current clinical practice.

The Pacific Medical Students Association (PMSA) is a relatively new organisation based in Fiji, representing medical students from a variety of South Pacific nations. Its aims are to foster collaboration between medical schools and provide medical education beyond that offered within the respective curriculum of each school.

In December 2017, PMSA organised an inaugural medical camp on the island of Malolo, in a tribal area distant from the tourist destinations. The program offered the following topics:

  • climate change and natural disasters
  • environmental health
  • jungle medicine, animal attacks and basic survival
  • emergency medicine
  • mental health

Approximately 120 medical students (mostly year three and above) from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Australia, attended and camped in tents in the grassy schoolyard adjacent to the village.

The students constructed a small covered dais for speakers, while they sat 25 yards away under cover from the blazing sun. I gave a talk on maternal sepsis, followed by a five-hour workshop on basic obstetric ultrasound using the Vinno 6 portable system. The brochure for that machine suggests that it is suitable for outdoor use, however, the bright sunlight prevented anyone from viewing the screen, so we had to retire to a hot, stuffy but darkened classroom for group training.

Prof Mike O’Connor giving a talk at an inaugural medical camp organised by PMSA in Fiji.

Prof Mike O’Connor giving a talk at an inaugural medical camp organised by PMSA in Fiji.


Some of the other outstanding lectures included:

  • New radiotherapy services for Fiji (Prof Mike Barton, UNSW)
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry, trauma, attachment and behavioural difficulties (Dr Klaus Martin Beckmann, Qld)
  • An assessment of Pacific Island climate projections (Dr Paul Spence, Oceanographer, UNSW)
  • Impact of climate change on food security (Prof Roslyn Gleadow, Monash)
  • Climate change (A/Prof Simon Hales, Dunedin)

It was interesting to see the students’ real concern about a changing world climate and its implications for the South Pacific. Paul Spence noted that some experts predict sea levels would rise by seven metres over the next 30 years. If so, I will move my funeral from Sydney to the Blue Mountains!

The return journey to Musket Cove was by open boat launch in rough conditions. I was clinging to the Vinno 6 machine (generously loaned by the company) and an obstetric phantom (courtesy of Glen McNally and the Australian Institute of Healthcare Education), lest they wound up ‘in the drink’. Nineteen years previously, the late Dr Chris Kohlenberg, FRANZCOG, taught Fijian doctors the art of practical ultrasound for the Asia and Oceania Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. After one such course, Chris died in a plane crash en route from Suva to Nadi in July 1999.

I urge other Fellows to consider supporting the PMSA, as they are eager to further the cause of a broad-based medical education. The medical camp is expected to be an annual event.

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