Students at NCFH

The National Centre for Farmer Health is excited to welcome students to our team for placement, research or clinical training.

Students at the National Centre for Farmer Health gain specialised field knowledge on specific aspects of health, wellbeing and safety of farmers. Hands on training for conducting research in the areas of farm and rural health is a key component of student experience at the centre.

We hope that you can make a difference to farmers’ lives in your careers.

Agricultural Health and Medicine

Why study the Graduate Certificate of Agricultural Health and Medicine?

  • Learn about the poor health on the ‘other side of the fence’
  • Study the impact of workforce health and wellbeing on agribusiness, agricultural production and sustainability
  • Help to improve the health outcomes of farming men, women and children.

This course opens possibilities for a variety of exciting career paths by providing students with a strong foundation in agricultural health, wellbeing and safety. It is accredited to offer continuing education and professional development points through a number of professional colleges and associations, including the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, the Australian Association of Social Workers and the Australian Veterinary Association. Units, such as HMF701 Agricultural Health and Medicine, in the course can be taken as an elective unit (worth 1 credit point) toward a postgraduate qualification at Deakin University. HMF701 also enables you to be recognised as a health provider by AgriSafe™ Australia.

Hear how past Agricultural Health and Medicine students are using their new knowledge to make a difference.

Current Students

Kerri Henriksen

I have worked at SWH Warrnambool for 21 years; 18 as a Senior Accounts Clerk in the Finance department, and most recently 3 as an Allied Health Assistant in the Social work team.

I have always had an interest in Social Work and Counselling, I trained and worked as a volunteer for Lifeline, and completed my Diploma in Community Services Case Management and Cert. IV in Counselling and support.

My Bachelor of Social Work will be completed at the end of this year; I started university for the first time at 56 years old and will finish just after I turn 60. As a mother and grandmother, I am extremely proud of my achievements and look forward to a career supporting survivors of Family Violence and further studies in Psychology.

Durre Shahwar

Durre is a Melbourne-based, final-year Master of Social Work student at Deakin University. With a background in Applied Psychology, Durre is deeply passionate about mental health. Her commitment to fostering the well-being of culturally diverse communities drives her in her studies and work. Juggling academic pursuits, a demanding job, and the responsibilities of raising four children, her goal is to contribute to research and interventions that empower individuals within these communities to achieve holistic mental well-being. Durre is absolutely enjoying her learning journey at NCFH.

Chris Singh

Chris is a placement student, currently completing his Master of Social Work degree at Deakin University. Chris lives on the Bellarine Peninsular, 30 minutes out of Geelong and enjoys taking his dog (Harvey) for walks along the beach, watching the footy (Go Blues!) and binge-watching shows.

Chris has an undergraduate degree in counselling and currently works as a Youth Mental Health Clinician at Headspace Geelong. After close to 10 years of client-facing experience, Chris is exploring a shift into research and is hoping this placement will provide him with a taste of the process involved in developing an academic research article.

Susan Anderson

Susan has a Bachelor Behavioural Science (Psychology) and is currently completing a Master of Social Work.

As part of Susan’s final Master’s placement at NCFH, she is contributing to research on regenerative farming and its connection to farmer health and wellbeing. Susan is keen to exercise her analytical skills, drawing on ecological systems theory and exploring opportunities for co-designed interventions that improve outcomes for farmers. 

Susan lives in Melbourne and spends her spare time crocheting, tending to the veggies in the garden and being entertained by her cheeky chooks. 

Medical Student Experience

MBBS Selective/Elective

The NCFH provides medical (MD) students with a number of opportunities to participate in research conducted by the team. Areas of interest include:

  • Mental Health
  • Agrichemical Exposure – Cholinesterase assessment
  • Rural Health – Health and Lifestyle Assessment
  • AgriSafe™

Dr Nufail Khan

Six weeks of growth, insight, and personal development. A fantastic collegiate atmosphere on a background of a beautiful landscape. These statements only provide a glimpse into one of the best placements that I have had during medical school.

I was fortunate enough to be placed at the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH). The team were incredibly supportive and extremely inclusive. The placement itself provided the ultimate opportunity to garner an understanding of the unique health issues facing rural and regional Australia. Working under Drs Alison Kennedy and Jacquie Cotton and Professor Susan Brumby, I was able to develop a literature review on how mental health is affected by agrichemical (e.g. pesticide) use. This piece is slated for publication which is an unexpected but welcomed outcome. Irrespective, the research has opened my eyes to health concerns that I should be more aware, and accepting of, in my own future practice.

My philosophy is always to make the most of the opportunities presented to you, and as such I immersed myself in the community by attending local events such as meet-up groups, Parkruns, fun runs, agricultural shows, and plenty of exploring (what a beautiful region!). I even used my face as a canvas for health awareness (Movember) during my time here. As much as I took away from this region I tried to give back by sharing my baking (every so often), and sharing the views from my exploration.

If you have never experienced the country life, or your mantra involves exploring, socialising, and learning about yourself, then come out to the NCFH in Hamilton.

Khan, N., Kennedy, A., Cotton, J., & Brumby, S. A Pest to Mental Health? Exploring the Link between Exposure to Agrichemicals in Farmers and Mental HealthInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(8), 1327doi:10.3390/ijerph16081327Go to page

Dr Kelly Ruecker

As a final year Deakin Medical Student, I had the opportunity to participate in a six-week selective joint research placement at the National Centre for Farmer Health and Western District Health Services. Here I completed a research project and audit in post-caesarean delivery pain management. I was involved in all aspects of clinical research – data collection, analysis, compiling a report and forming recommendations for the health service. Whilst my project was not strictly farmer health related, I had the opportunity to get involved and draw on the experience of the NCFH team, who welcomed me with open arms.

In addition to research, I also had opportunities to assist with health assessments of farmers throughout Western Victoria through AgriSafe™ clinics as well as hear about the exciting research and programs that the NCFH runs. I was able to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by rural and farming populations and measures utilised by rural health clinicians to improve health, safety and wellbeing in these communities.

I had a fantastic time at NCFH and WDHS! Both teams are incredibly friendly and encouraging. I would highly recommend a selective and/or elective placement at NCFH for anyone remotely interested in research, public health or farmer/rural health!

Dr Affan Guliyara

As a final year Deakin Medical Student, I participated in a six-week selective research placement at the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH). I chose NCFH because it presented a unique opportunity for me to gain some research experience, whilst simultaneously providing exposure to the most vulnerable community amongst rural populations—farmers.

My research work involved data analysis of the agrichemicals used by the farmers in Western Victoria. This was part of an exciting research project called In-field Personalised Cholinesterase Assessment Project (PCAP), which seeks to explore the best way to measure farmers’ exposure to Cholinesterase.

Apart from research, NCFH also gave me the opportunity to attend AgriSafe clinics and Sustainable Farming Families (SFF) workshops, where I was involved in performing comprehensive health assessments on farmers from Western Victoria—and educating them on health and safety—under the supervision of experienced clinicians.

My time at NCFH was wonderful. It provided me with a valuable insight into research as well as factors that affect farmers’ health. The team is very friendly and supportive! The research work is flexible and is tailored based on the student’s prior research experience and the duration of the placement. I highly recommend all final year medical students to consider NCFH for their selective placement. You will love it!

Dr Jessica Perry

During my time at the National Centre for Farmer Health I undertook a research placement performing a literature review on the topic of Organophosphate Effect on Farmers. I was supported by the friendly staff at the centre throughout this process. Also I was given the opportunity to have hands on experience with organophosphate testing and health assessment of farmers throughout western Victoria. I found this to be a valuable experience as a 4th year Medical Student as it allowed me to increase my knowledge about this topic, research and farmer’s health.

Perry J., Cotton J., Rahman M., Brumby SA.2020Organophosphate exposure and the chronic effects on farmers: a narrative reviewRural and Remote Health20:4508Go to page

PhD Student Experience

Jessie Adams

Jessie completed a Bachelor of Public Health and Health Promotion (Hons) and a Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin University in 2017. Following this, Jessie made the move to Hamilton to work as a Research Assistant at the centre. In 2020, she commenced her PhD focusing on child safety on farms – submitting it in June 2023.

Growing up on a beef farm in northeast Victoria Jessie is keen to help improve the health, wellbeing and safety of farming communities. 

Dr Alison Kennedy

My decision to take on a PhD with the National Centre for Farmer Health followed a very positive experience as a Casual Research Assistant at the Centre. Taking on a PhD—with the encouragement of Centre Director Susan Brumby—allowed me to combine my passion for rural health with my previous academic training in behavioural science and my personal experience of suicide bereavement.

My PhD research ‘Life, death and the experience of suicide and accidental death bereavement for Australia’s rural farming families’ was very well supported by the NCFH. In addition to excellent access to practical resources (including Deakin library, software and office space), the NCFH gave me contact with skilled research staff and a collegial and encouraging atmosphere in which to manage the challenges associated with doctoral research.

I successfully graduated with a PhD in March 2016 and was awarded the University of New England Chancellor’s Research Medal. Successfully achieving this milestone has now lead to full-time employment as a Research Fellow and part of a dynamic research team at the NCFH. I look forward to continuing to develop my research skills, work alongside the rural farming community to improve health, wellbeing and safety and, ultimately, to make a difference to farmers’ lives!

Honours Student Experience

Jordan Walker

I’m a Biomedical Science graduate from Deakin University and currently completing a Bachelor of Health and Medical Science (Honours) with Deakin University in partnership with the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH).

Recent times have seen a rise in quad bike deaths despite the Australian government’s introduction of new quad bike safety measures. Many of these incidents occur within the agricultural industry, where quad bikes get used for spraying agrichemicals, which poses an added risk. My honours project aims to investigate farmers/ agricultural workers experiences using a quad bike to spray agrichemicals. I will be exploring the mechanism of how injuries and deaths are occurring and any risk-factors contributing to these incidents. I hope my research will help inform education and direct work practices when using quad bikes and improve these farmers/agricultural workers safety.  

My project will be based at the NCFH in Hamilton, under Dr Jacquie Cotton’s supervision. I look forward to my time in Hamilton working alongside the NCFH team.

Claire McKay

I’m a Science graduate from Deakin University and have recently completed my Bachelor of Health and Medical Sciences (Honours) with the National Centre for Farmer Health and the Deakin University School of Medicine.

Growing up rurally before relocating to Geelong, the health issues prevalent to rural populations and primary producers were a familiar topic in my upbringing. I combined my previous focus on Human Biology with my interest in agricultural health and data science to complete an Honours project researching kidney disease in international agricultural populations. I extended this work to investigate factors relating to kidney health in Australian primary producers and rural communities, such as agrochemical use, heat stress, climate change and water quality. We hope this work will help form health policy changes regarding protection from kidney disease risk factors, and improve future research design within the field.

My Honours year would not have been possible without the encouragement and expert supervision of Centre Director Professor Susan Brumby alongside Professor Karen Dwyer and Dr Antoine Dujon. I hope to continue research in the field of agricultural health and medicine in future after such a positive and engaging Honours experience with the NCFH.

Sara Devine

I’m a Biomedical Science graduate and have recently completed my Honours in Health and Medical Science at Deakin University in partnership with The National Centre for Farmer Health and Western District Health Service.

Rising obesity rates in Australia is concerning due to obesity’s association with comorbidities, loss of employment and overall contributing to a greater cost burden. The success of bariatric surgery in achieving and maintaining significant weight loss has led to an increase in demand for the surgery. However, this has resulted in inequalities to emerge between public and private patients accessing the surgery. My Honours project aimed to investigate the differences in public and private patients pre-operative health status and the pre-operative pathways followed. To highlight any disparities between the patient groups and to investigate whether bariatric surgery is reaching those most in need first.

This research would not have been possible without the help and encouragement from the staff at NCFH and WDHS. I’ve learnt a lot this year and am very grateful for all the support I received throughout my time in Hamilton.

Sienna Russell-Green

I’m a Biomedical Science graduate from Deakin University, who completed my Honours Degree with the NCFH. Prior to this, I hadn’t had any experience in hands-on research, especially in a rural environment, but I’ve found everyone at NCFH to be extremely supportive and more than willing to help me out!

My research project, called CROP HARVEST, aims to evaluate farmer attitudes and behaviours in order to prevent exposure to agrichemicals. It provides the opportunity to investigate practices in regards to agrichemical usage and personal protection. Through use of a survey-interview process, I will be able to determine the effectiveness of agrichemical surveillance (monitoring exposure), and the influence this has on behaviour regarding both use of agrichemicals and and personal protective equipment (PPE). I hope CROP HARVEST will provide participants with the knowledge to understand how monitoring their agrichemical exposure has influenced the way they evaluate personal safety and behaviour around agrichemicals, along with attitudes and practices of the population.

Undertaking my honours project at NCFH has equipped me with skills and knowledge that I wouldn’t have gotten in an urban setting. Although moving to Hamilton has been a huge leap, not only have I learned research skills, but I’ve definitely gained an insight into farming life and a deeper understanding for health, safety and wellbeing issues that affect farmers. I really enjoyed my time at NCFH, it was heaps of fun!

Lachlan Skilbeck

I have completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Deakin University, as well as my Bachelor of Health and Medical Science (Honours) in conjunction with Deakin University and the National Centre for Farmer Health.

My project looked at help seeking for social and emotional wellbeing among young rural adults. This study identified past help seeking experiences and current help seeking intentions for social and emotional wellbeing among young rural adults. This study contributed to improved prediction of future help-seeking behaviours in young rural adults and provides community-informed knowledge to assist with the development of appropriate and effective ways to provide acceptable and accessible support for young rural adults. A key element of this research is around improving opportunities for help seeking and making help easier to access. This study provides recommendations for service delivery, health policy and future research directions.

My time at NCFH has been fantastic, from the team members to the research, every part has been enjoyable!

International Exchange Student Experience

Erin Taber

Erin is a visiting graduate student from the University of Iowa in the US. She is originally from Iowa City, IA and graduated high school in 2015. She completed her undergraduate degree from Iowa in May 2019, with majors in Health Promotion and Political Science, and a minor in Global Health Studies. Erin is currently pursuing her Master of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology and will graduate from the University of Iowa College of Public Health in May 2020.

Erin is involved with the National Centre for Farmer Health through a global health exchange between Deakin University and the University of Iowa. While with NCFH, Erin is working on a program evaluation of the various services NCFH provides with the Victorian Government’s Drought Support Funding. Erin is excited to be working and living in Victoria during her placement, and is looking forward to learning more about Australian farming and culture.

Work Placement Experience

Tillee Huf

During my four-week placement at the National Centre for Farmer Health in 2023, I gained valuable experience contributing to various projects. This deepened my understanding of the centre’s work and enhanced my commitment to a career in farmer mental health. In the first week, I participated in a resilience workshop for Agriculture Victoria employees, providing feedback and insights. In subsequent weeks, I contributed to a Farm Safety Week social media campaign, learned content creation using Canva, and developed skills in research and article formatting. Shadowing discussions on farming policies with social work students also allowed me to share my farming experiences and contribute to their learning. Overall, this experience exceeded my expectations, and I’m grateful for the connections I made during my placement. It strengthened my dedication to advocating for the farming community.

Read more about Tillee’s experience in her reflective blog piece here:

Joe Lewis

Undertaking my field placement at NCFH has equipped me with the appropriate tools to confidently operate as a social worker within the agricultural setting by broadening my understanding of the farming life, and furthermore developing an appreciation of the issues of health and the diversity of the impact that implicates farmers.

I completed a 70 day, 500-hour final social work field placement at NCFH. I was able to implement my social work skills through a comprehensive literature review on farmers facing suicide stigma. I was also given the opportunity to create and implement a phone survey to assess what action farmers have taken to improve their health and lifestyle after they attended Health and Lifestyle Assessments conducted by NCFH at various agricultural field day events across the country; the feedback and results have been very positive!!

My time spent with the team at NCFH was extremely enlightening and very enjoyable!


Further Information

For further information please contact:

Dr Jacquie Cotton
Phone (03) 5551 8533