Top Talker Sets Sights on Improved Rural Health

24th February 2021

Year 12 Girton Grammar School student, Eliza O’Sullivan, is one of only four Victorian students to be selected to present at the 2021 Top Talks event as part of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (VCAA) Season of Excellence at the State Library of Victoria.

The prestigious Top Talks event showcases exceptional oral presentations from VCE Extended Investigation students. Eliza will give a presentation on how we could address rural doctor shortages in the Loddon Mallee region, which was her research topic last year.

“A strong research base shows that doctors who grow up in rural areas are the most likely to return to rural areas to practice medicine. This is why almost all Australian universities are required to enrol one in four of their medical students from rural areas.

“However, many universities do not receive enough rural applicants.

“My research built an understanding of the factors that are associated with rural students’ interest in a medical career. This will inform intervention to strengthen interest from these students and increase their applications to university medical courses.

“Greater enrolment of rural students into medical degrees may improve the supply of graduate doctors to the regions,” Eliza said.

Eliza chose Extended Investigation as one of her VCE subjects because she is passionate about achieving health equity in Australia, and she wanted to produce research with a practical application.

“My research is the first to provide targeted information for addressing rural doctor shortages in the Loddon Mallee region. This may have significant implications for the health outcomes of the Loddon Mallee population.

Eliza said that for rural communities to enjoy medical care that is timely and high quality, we need suitably qualified professionals to be practising in rural areas in sufficient numbers.

“One of my research findings was that completing medical work experience is very significantly associated with interest in a medical career. However, students in small towns are having trouble accessing it. The focus now needs to be on making sure that medical work experience is available for all students, including those in small towns,” she said.

Eliza also found a strong correlation between watching and reading medical fiction and a young person’s interest in a medical career. This correlation was found to be strongest in females, who consume medical fiction in much greater numbers than males.

“The importance of medical work experience comes to the fore again. To ground a young person’s interest in a medical career, practical experience is important to counter the romanticised and dramatised nature of medical fiction.

“Contrary to popular belief, my research also found that neither having a doctor as a family member or friend nor having experiences of illness were significantly associated with interest in a medical career,” Eliza said.

Eliza invited all 28 Loddon Mallee secondary schools to participate in her study and is appreciative of the 11 who were involved.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to all the teachers and principals across the Loddon Mallee region who allowed me to survey their students for my research, and I am grateful for the generous time and support that my teacher, Dr Itter, provided to me in Extended Investigation,” Eliza said.

Top Talks 2021 will be live-streamed from the Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library Victoria, at 10 am, Thursday 4 March 2021. To access a free virtual ticket, go to: