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Dr. Rex Prabhu: Fixing challenges in rural health

Dr Rex Prabhu of regional Victoria has won a Public Service Medal, announced in the King’s Birthday Honours 2024

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Victoria’s Dr. Rex Prabhu has received a Public Service Medal in the King’s Birthday Honours this year. He was recognised for his exceptional contributions to healthcare in Swan Hill in regional Victoria. 

The executive director of Medical Services at Swan Hill since 2019, Associate Professor Rex Prabhu has successfully transformed rural general practice. 

Having tripled the number of general practitioner (GP) supervisors and permanent medical staff in the hospital and health service, he has contributed significantly to serving the healthcare needs of the region. 

“We’ve grown from two supervisors to twelve, and these professionals are eager to learn and thrive locally,” says Rex. “It’s a win for both medical aid and the local economy.”

When he arrived in Swan Hill, the organisation was struggling to recruit and sustain medical workers, and he faced the formidable task of addressing the recruitment and retention issues in the local healthcare system.

“It became crucial to align doctors’ aspirations with the organisation’s needs,” Rex recalls. 

His efforts have today brought unprecedented growth and stability to the local medical community.

Dr. Rex Rais Prabhu
The Executive Director of Medical Services at Swan Hill | Source: Facebook

He helped establish advanced training pathways in rural medicine, GP Obstetrics, GP Anaesthetics, and Geriatrics.

He counts as one of his most significant achievements, the launch of a comprehensive training program in collaboration with Charles Sturt Mallee Clinical School of the Charles Sturt University. 

“This program offers end-to-end training for both undergraduates and postgraduates, from initial education to GP fellowship. Students gain experience in various specialties across surrounding hospitals, and many who arrived from overseas in 2018 and 2019 have not only completed their fellowships but also chosen to stay and contribute to the community as teachers.”

By partnering with neighbouring hospitals, he and his team have created a nurturing environment that attracts young professionals. These settings are less competitive and more supportive, providing diverse and well-managed training opportunities.

Dr. Rex Rais Prabhu
Demonstration of upcoming upgrades to Swan Hill District Health | Source: Facebook

“What inspired me was the realisation that doctors need care in order to take care of patients. The days of working 100+ hours a week are unsustainable,” Rex explains. His focus on the well-being and development of doctors has transformed the local healthcare landscape.

Looking ahead, Rex sees both challenges and opportunities in rural health. “Rural health is still struggling, but struggle also means opportunity,” he notes. 

His vision includes addressing the inefficiencies caused by isolated practices closing down and advocating for more diverse trainees who can contribute fresh perspectives.

For young medical professionals considering a career in rural health, Dr. Rex Prabhu offers valuable advice. He highlights the autonomy and impact one can have in rural settings compared to the competitive nature of city hospitals. “In Sydney, I wasted a lot of time travelling to work, which took a toll on my personal life. Moving to a rural area like Swan Hill provided a good balance between work and family,” he shares. 

Additionally, the local community’s vibrant social life and supportive environment make it an appealing choice.

Born in 1987, Rex’s career in medicine began with his move to Australia in 2012 from Mangalore, India. After a degree in public health, he started work at Perth Royal Hospital in 2015. It was he met his future wife – during a whirlwind of hospital rounds. Following a brief stint at Sydney where he served as Deputy Director at Manly Hospital, he made the tree change to Swan Hill.

Rex is also a vocal advocate for changing the draconian requalification laws for overseas doctors. “Overseas doctors are the backbone of rural services and need more support and recognition,” he asserts. His organisation has applied for workplace-based assessments to ease the integration of international medical graduates, drawing inspiration from more progressive systems in the UK and USA.

Throughout his career, Rex has been inspired by local colleagues in leadership roles, building networks to improve policies and foster healthy relationships. He emphasises the importance of adapting the healthcare system to meet the needs of the new generation of medical professionals, bridging the generational gap, and promoting wellbeing and diversity in the workplace.

With leaders like Dr. Rex Prabhu, the future of rural healthcare looks promising.

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Khushee Gupta
Khushee Gupta
A passionate journalist dedicated to highlighting stories of diversity, empowerment and resilience in various industries and a Bollywood fanatic!

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