Doctors in schools program improving care experiences for patients, providers

Victorian Minister for Education Ben Carroll (right) with Member for Broadmeadows Kathleen Matthews-Ward at Hume Central Secondary College, October 2023
  27 November 2023  NWMPHN   

Pictured: Victorian Minister for Education Ben Carroll (right) with Member for Broadmeadows Kathleen Matthews-Ward at Hume Central Secondary College last month.

The Doctors in Secondary Schools program led by North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN) continues to deliver, with students across Victoria receiving more than 72,000 consultations since 2017.

The program puts GPs and practice nurses into Victorian high schools, providing treatment and advice on physical and mental health. It is delivered in the 100 schools assessed by the Department of Education as the most in need.

It complements student wellbeing programs aimed at preventative health and improving health literacy.

Victorian Minister for Education, Ben Carroll, who visited Hume Central Secondary College in Broadmeadows last month, said the program is making it easier for students to access the support they need to thrive.

“We know that when students are healthy and supported to participate meaningfully in education, they can reach their academic potential and get the most out of their schooling,” he said.

Dr Sophie Nottle, a GP at headspace Glenroy, spends a day each week consulting students at the Broadmeadows campus. She said she gains great satisfaction from developing therapeutic relationships with young people.

“Students present with mental health care needs such as anxiety, depression, stress and eating disorders, but we also provide advice and care on sexual health and common problems such as asthma and pelvic pain,” she explained.

Dr Sophie Nottle (left) and nurse Alison Duffin.
Pictured: Dr Sophie Nottle (left) and nurse Alison Duffin.

“We noticed an increase in mental health related problems when the COVID-19 pandemic began and throughout it, but fortunately we are seeing signs of recovery as well as improvements in mental health literacy.

“These presentations can be difficult to manage in the community, where it’s harder for the young person to access a GP and the GP is more limited by time.”

Dr Nottle works closely with her headspace colleague, practice nurse Alison Duffin, who provides care at Hume Central Secondary College and Lalor North Secondary College. Nurse Duffin has been specialising in the mental and sexual health and wellbeing of young people for 3 decades.

She said the Doctors in Secondary Schools program is a “beacon of innovation”.

“It is a privilege to collaborate with such extraordinary young individuals, who despite life’s myriad challenges and barriers, exhibit remarkable resilience by reaching out for our services,” she said.

“This deeply rewarding experience is further enriched by the exceptional team of nurses, doctors, student wellbeing, support staff and allied health professionals with whom I have the honour of working with. I absolutely love this job!”

The program is funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Training. Led by NWMPHN, all 6 Victorian primary health networks commission general practices to provide services.

NWMPHN Chief Executive Christopher Carter said he hopes to see the program expand.

“We know it can be hard for young people to access primary care in some areas, and when they do visit a GP it’s usually for a specific condition,” he said.

“In these scenarios, GPs and nurses may not always be able to spend enough time with each young person to understand what else is going on in their lives.

“Through Doctors in Secondary Schools, clinicians have the time they need to develop rapport and treat the whole person.”

General practices can learn more and view available opportunities at