Dubbo Hospital: The Base for Emerging Rural Doctors
Is it too early to say the renaissance in rural health has begun? Perhaps, but exciting things are happening at Dubbo Base Hospital, and if Michelangelo were alive today he’d be trading his paintbrushes in for a stethoscope. Dubbo is about to get more doctors, which in the context of the worst ‘doctor drought’ in living memory should be welcome news indeed. The good news is actually twofold as, firstly, the new doctors have already spent at least 12 months living and working in Dubbo (and they love it), and secondly, their passion and enthusiasm for working in the country is a sign that rural health is entering a new era.
Dubbo Base Hospital is one of the few regional hospitals offering 12-month internship training positions, and the popularity of Dubbo as a first-choice location amongst medical graduates has been growing rapidly since the first Intern was employed here in 2008. Dubbo’s popularity has reached crescendo with the news that, starting in January 2011, five new doctors will begin working in the hospital.
The new interns have gained positions at Dubbo hospital through the Rural Preferential Recruitment (RPR) program, a scheme that allows medical graduates who are interested in a career in rural medicine to sidestep the standard ballot-based allocation process and apply directly to the rural hospital of their choice. RPR is a merit-based program where candidates must participate in an application process and compete for the most desirable rural hospitals in New South Wales.
In recent times Dubbo Hospital has done a fine job becoming one of the most attractive places to live and work for interns in NSW. I know this because I’m one of them, and it may surprise you to learn Dubbo has always been at the top of my list. I’m not the only one either as this year Dubbo attracted twice as many applicants as available positions, thereby proving Dubbo is the jewel in the west for graduating medical students.
The best feature about DBH is, due to its smaller size compared to hospitals in the city, there are not as many people crowding the higher rungs of the ladder. This increases the chances that interesting and experience-building tasks will become the responsibility of the intern, making life less mundane and more bearable (internship year is widely regarded as the most difficult year in a doctor's life).
Of course Dubbo isn’t just a one-zoo town and there’s plenty of other reasons why Dubbo ranks so highly among medical graduates. The country lifestyle can’t be beat with zero commuting time, clean air, friendly people, and a night sky where you can actually see the stars. The town is clean, there’s plenty of sporting clubs and associations, the weather is top-notch (albeit super-hot in summer, but I like that) and if you have a passion for the pastoral there’s no better place to be. Opportunities for young professionals appear to be expanding at an enormous rate as well, with ample employment opportunities for the twenty-something crowd, particularly if you’re bringing a set of much-needed skills to the area.
So what of the future, and are we really witnessing the beginnings of a renaissance? Or are the five new interns merely an anomaly with a return to the status quo expected in 2012?
I certainly hope we are witnessing the beginnings of a change in the fortunes for rural and regional areas; after all, it’s reasonable to expect the tide to turn at some point, considering the amount of money being invested in combating the rural health crisis. The five new interns might be just a drop in the ocean, but increasing the number of doctors in rural areas is a gradual process that may take decades before completion, and an improving trend is a promising sign.
The really exciting news about all of this, however, is that a fundamental change in the attitudes of medical students and new doctors towards working in rural areas is starting to become evident. No longer does a career in the country seem so daunting, rather it is something to aspire to, with students and doctors beginning to tailor their training experiences to prepare themselves for the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in country Australia. All that is needed to continue the upward trend is a little support and encouragement from the community and health institutions, and fortunately, Dubbo is abundant on all accounts.
Comment by Daniel Stewart, SMP Stage 3, Year 4
4 August 2010