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New Colombo Plan

Joshua Tobin, Mongolia 2017

Only about 400 Australians visit Mongolia each year and in 2017, Dr Josh Tobin was one of them.

He says his month-long New Colombo Plan mobility placement in Mongolia was a revelation.

"I think it will be part of my life in some way, forever," Josh says.

"It is an untouched gem of a country – beautiful, unique, remote and fascinating."

And for Josh the vast expanse of the land-locked nation resonated with his experience of Australia.

Proud of his Aboriginal heritage as a Darug man of the people of Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, Josh has long held an ambition to be a rural doctor.


Man standing in a hallway in hospital scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck.
NCP alum Dr Josh Tobin.

Now, 3 years since graduating with a medical degree from the University of Newcastle, Josh hopes to gain further specialist training in anaesthetics and ICU to improve his expertise.

"While they are 2 very different places, what struck me when I was in Mongolia was that Australia faces some very similar challenges in providing health care to rural and remote regions and they are countries that have equal but opposite harsh climate challenges," Josh says.

"Like Australia, the health care system there is pretty good, but the vast distances often make it difficult to deliver services.

"Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated paces on earth. There are two people per square kilometre but almost half of the 3.3 million population live in the capital, Ulaanbaatar.

"My study focus was emergency health care and the triage system, and I was based in a small rural town with less than 1000 people.

"I had the privilege of being mentored by the head doctor of the regional hospital, a woman so loved and respected by her community that it was totally inspiring.

"Her work and the example of her leadership and her commitment to delivering the best possible health care made such a significant difference to her community.

"A small town can get by without a lawyer or engineer, but the impact of a dedicated doctor is huge."

Today Josh works as a critical care doctor in ICU at Port Macquarie Hospital and lectures in Indigenous Health at Macquarie University.

"Rurality continues to be a significant negative indicator for health in Australia and especially in Indigenous communities," Josh says.

His experience of Mongolia and Australia has Josh thinking about how innovative technologies might close the health access gap for remote populations around the world.

"With Australia entering the space technology industry, I think we could trial some of the latest deep space technologies to deliver improved health services to our isolated communities," he says.

"We are a perfect country to test how we will develop the health technologies – blood testing, and other important tests - to support space station astronauts or colonies on Mars, because we have such isolated communities.

"It is something I would love to research because it could have a powerful impact here and in places around the world like Mongolia."


6 medical practitioner's standing out the front of a hospital in Mongolia.
Josh participated in a month-long NCP mobility project in Mongolia.

In the meantime, for Josh the allure of Mongolia remains strong.

"I feel it is a place I will keep going back to and right now I have applications in to serve as an expedition doctor for a trek being held there and an anaesthetic training mission" he says.

"My time in Mongolia would never have been possible without the NCP grant.

"The whole concept of the New Colombo Plan is to build understanding, forge relationships in our region and stimulate regional and global thinking.

"NCP encourages a deeper connection and the possibility of a continuing relationship with the country you visit and the people and professionals you meet there."

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