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  1. The Australian Medical Association has released a paper outlining ways to get more doctors into the bush. The ‘Position Statement – Rural Workforce Initiatives’ outlines what the AMA says is a comprehensive five-point plan to encourage more doctors to work in rural and remote locations and improve patient access to health care. It says at least one-third of all new medical students should be from rural backgrounds, and more medical students should be required to do at least one year of training in a rural area to encourage graduates to live and work in regional Australia. The plan also proposes initiatives in education and training, work environments, support for doctors and their families, and financial incentives. “About seven million Australians live in regional, rural, and remote areas,” said AMA President Dr Michael Gannon, announcing the initiative. They often have more difficulty accessing health services than their city cousins. “They often have to travel long distances for care, and rural hospital closures and downgrades are seriously affecting the future delivery of health care in rural areas. For example, more than 50 percent of small rural maternity units have been closed in the past two decades. “Australia does not need more medical schools or more medical school places. Workforce projections suggest that Australia is heading for an oversupply of doctors,” said Dr Gannon. “What is required are targeted initiatives to increase the size of the rural medical, nursing, and allied health workforce. There has been a considerable increase in the number of medical graduates in recent years, but more than three-quarters of locally trained graduates live in capital cities. “International medical graduates make up more than 40 percent of the rural medical workforce and while they do excellent work, we must reduce this reliance and build a more sustainable system.” The AMA Rural Workforce Initiatives plan outlines five key areas where it believes governments and other stakeholders should focus their policy efforts: Encourage students from rural areas to enroll in medical school, and provide medical students with opportunities for positive and continuing exposure to regional and rural medical training. Provide a dedicated and quality training pathway with the right skill mix to ensure doctors are adequately trained to work in rural areas. Provide a rewarding and sustainable work environment with adequate facilities, professional support and education, and flexible work arrangements, including locum relief. Provide family support that includes spousal opportunities/employment, educational opportunities for children’s education, subsidies for housing/relocation and/or tax relief. Provide financial incentives to ensure competitive remuneration. “Rural workforce policy must reflect the evidence. Doctors who come from a rural background, or who spend time training in a rural area, are more likely to take up long-term practice in a rural location,” Dr Gannon said. “Selecting a greater proportion of medical students with a rural background, and giving medical students and graduates an early taste of rural practice, can have a profound effect on medical workforce distribution. “Our proposals to lift both the targeted intake of rural medical students and the proportion of medical students required to undertake at least one year of clinical training in a rural area from 25 percent to 33 percent are built on this approach. “All Australians deserve equitable access to high-speed broadband, and rural doctors and their families should not miss out on the benefits that the growing use of the internet is bringing.”
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