EDUCATIONAL VISIT: Second year Penn State University medical students Yuriy Pechenyy, 25, Tim Groh, 25 and Nanjiba Nawaz, 23, will spend three weeks in the region, spending time at Mildura Base Hospital, on campus at Monash Rural Health Mildura, and at Mallee and District Aboriginal Services. Photo: PAUL MENSCH


MONASH University’s Rural Health Mildura campus is playing host to three visiting medical students from Penn State University as part of an annual exchange program.

This year marks the second time Monash Rural Health Mildura has played host to a contingent from the American college, with the aim to expose visiting students to the Australian health system, while also exploring why disparity exists in health systems across the globe.

Second year medical students Tim Groh, 25, Nanjiba Nawaz, 23, and Yuriy Pechenyy, 25, will spend three weeks in the region, spending time at Mildura Base Hospital, on campus at Monash Rural Health Mildura, and at Mallee and District Aboriginal Services (MDAS).

Through MDAS, the trio will spend time investigating the health gap between Mildura’s Aboriginal residents and the rest of the community, while also learning more about local and national efforts to ‘Close the Gap’.

Penn State University will in turn host two Monash University students in January 2020.

Tim said that it was exciting to be in the country, and to be taking part in the exchange program.

“It’s a really unique opportunity,” he said. “Not many Australians get to do what we’re doing… and I feel very fortunate to have this chance, and I want to make the most of it.”

Tim, who hails from Hershey Pennsylvania, said that he was looking forward to taking part in the three-week program.

“We’re splitting time between Mildura Base Hospital and MDAS, and we’ve been shadowing a bit, practising some clinical skills, while learning about Aboriginal health, culture, health disparities and how the government and different health practitioners are trying to close that gap… and how those lessons can be applied in the US, he said.”

Tim is used to rural living, with his home town boasting around 15,000 residents!

“I always thought about getting into healthcare, but didn’t get into it until I was part-way through university,” he said. 

“Currently I’m on a scholarship with the US Airforce, so I’ll work as a physician for the airforce after I finish my training, and we’ll see where that takes me…

“At some point I’d like to get back and work with the indigenous population in the States.”

Fellow second year medical student, Nanjiba Nawaz, said she too was enjoying the experience.

“This is my first time in Australia… coming into this rural setting is different to the city life,” she said.

Nanjiba said the first thing she had noticed was the difference between the two health systems.

“Our healthcare system is pretty different in how it operates, including how doctors see patients, and how the insurance system works, so getting an understanding and feel for how that works has been great,” she said.

“Doctor-patient interaction is also different depending on where you go.”

Nanjiba said that she too had an interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population health.

“I come from an under-privileged background where there have been a lot of healthcare disparities, and I’ve interested in that side of things for a long time.

“I thought this (trip) was a great opportunity to understand why these disparities exist, and what we can do to address them.”

Nanjiba grew up in Bangladesh, and decided to move to the US five years ago to complete her undergraduate degree.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a doctor… I was interested in helping people, especially coming from an under-privileged background where healthcare was not guaranteed for all, it really boosted my interest in wanting to help people,” she said.

Yuriy Pechenyy, meanwhile, said that the trip had already enabled him to tick off a special bucket list item.

“One of my bigger goals was to see a kangaroo, and I’ve managed to do that!” he said.

Yuriy said that the trip had opened his eyes to some of the health disparities that exist around the globe.

“I want to learn what people are going through, and how governments are addressing those issues,” he said. 

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Aboriginal community here, or the African-American community in the States, the struggles may be different, but solutions could still apply.”

Yuriy said he had also been impressed by MDAS’ set-up and presence in the region.

“MDAS has a great program where all the services are combined in the same space, which makes things seamless for patients,” he said.

Yuriy was born in the Ukraine, and moved to the US 15 years ago. 

“In high school I realised that I really liked science… when I got to university I applied to medical school,” he said.

Yuriy added that the trip had also opened his eyes to the Australian way of life.

FOOTNOTE: Stay tuned to for our series of video interviews with Tim, Nanjiba and Yuriy over the coming weeks.