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AMA plan to get more doctors in rural areas

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Rural_Clinic.jpgThe 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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Yes we need more doctors in rural areas that's obvious tried recently to get an appointment and it was a week to get an appointment. We have three clinics here and all were fully booked. However the idea to make student doctors do a year in a rural area is flawed imo. We need doctors who are prepared to stay, you need to build a realtionship with a doctor and it just doesn't happen in rural areas for the most part. In my case over the last few years i find a doctor i like and am comfortable with only to find they leave after a year or two and you're back to square one. We have a lot of doctors coming to our area whom are from non english speaking backgrounds and a good portion of them are very hard to imo understand. I'm curious as to how they  pass the english test to be honest. I even had one prescribe me medication that it clearly states in my records i'm allergic to? Which i pointed out to said doctor. Not good enough!!! I agree with the comment about maternity services two of the small rural hospitals in this area have closed their maternity units in the last two years forcing expectant mothers to travel between an hour to two hours to access maternity services. 

Edited by Chicken66

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It sounds like a good idea in principle and something has to be done to provide good, long term service to the rural communities, but the AMA can’t work in isolation, they need all the other healthcare professional bodies to work in conjunction with them. It’s ok to give incentives to doctors, but no one is going to be willing or able to give a satisfactory service on their own, even if they are from the area originally. They’ll need ancillary staff too, even if that’s just an extra nurse. They’ll also need access to clinics, path labs, radiography services etc, which isn’t so much of a problem in rural towns, but almost impossible in very rural areas. There have been muttering along these lines for at least the last 19 years (when we first came to Australia and my husband worked in some rural communities), so it doesn’t sound like anything new really.

TBF, all those incentives are already available to doctors who undertake locum work for a few weeks (accommodation, travel, car, enhanced salaries) without the need to commit to a long term contract, and while their families continue to live in the major centres with good schools and infrastructure. It’s a very difficult situation to try to solve.

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