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Rural Australia, where the University of Sydney is calling on the federal government to redouble its efforts to increase the number of doctors working in regional and rural Australia.
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Build rural medical-career pipeline, not another medical school

27 June 2017
How to raise doctor numbers in regional areas

The University of Sydney’s School of Rural Health is calling on the federal government to redouble its efforts to increase the number of doctors working in regional and rural Australia. 

In a letter to the federal member for Calare, Andrew Gee MP, it has also rejected claims that establishing a new medical school in central western NSW will solve the rural doctor shortage.

In March, the Federal Government announced funding for 60 junior doctors to access rural-based training positions in primary care settings, such as general practice. A month later it announced funding for 26 Rural Training Hubs, another instalment of its Rural Training Pipeline intended to attract and retain medical graduates in rural areas.

“We commend these initiatives because rural training experience increases the likelihood that doctors will commit to working in rural locations long term,” said Associate Professor Mark Arnold, Head of the School of Rural Health, a rural clinical school of the University of Sydney with campuses in Dubbo and Orange.

“But more effort is needed to extend the rural training pipeline, so that medical graduates wanting a rural career can gain intern and residency jobs and also progress to postgraduate specialty training, including rural generalist training, in rural and regional sites.”

There’s no shortage of medical graduates and junior doctors wanting to train and establish careers in regional Australia.
Associate Professor Mark Arnold, Head of Rural Health, University of Sydney

Dr Arnold, who is also a rheumatologist working in Dubbo, Gloucester and Orange, said proposals to establish rurally-based medical schools as a way to increase rural doctor numbers were well-intentioned but misguided. He also rejected claims that urban based medical schools were not helping to build a rural medical workforce.

The Federal Member for Calare, Mr Andrew Gee MP, said in the Central Western Daily the University of Sydney is taking an “unnecessarily predatory and negative approach” to training a rural medical workforce. He also claimed in parliament that “big urban universities” and had failed to “produce doctors willing to practice medicine in the country.”

Mr Gee MP is supporting the establishment of a new rurally based Murray Darling Medical School with campuses in Orange, Wagga and Bendigo, claiming it will solve the rural doctor shortage.

Dr Arnold said he understood the Member for Calare’s concerns but said building a rural medical school would not solve the rural doctor shortage.

“There’s no shortage of medical graduates and junior doctors wanting to train and establish careers in regional Australia,” Dr Arnold said.

“What’s needed is a bigger, sustainable rural medical career training ‘pipeline’ for junior doctors who want to work in regional and rural areas, long term.

What’s needed is a bigger, sustainable rural medical career training ‘pipeline’ for junior doctors who want to work in regional and rural areas, long term.
Associate Professor Mark Arnold, Head of Rural Health, University of Sydney

Dr Arnold said the entrance to this rural medical-career pipeline was oversubscribed.

“This year, there were more than six applications for every intern job commencing at Dubbo Base Hospital and the Orange Health Service. Clearly, there’s no need for another medical school to feed the entrance to the pipeline.

Commenting on claims that the University of Sydney and urban universities were failing to produce doctors willing to practice medicine in the country, Dr Arnold said:

“The University’s School of Rural Health has a longstanding commitment to training the next generation of rural and regional healthcare workers, including doctors. Our track record speaks for itself.

“By the end of this year, over 800 of our medical students will have graduated after doing extended rural placements at our Orange and Dubbo campuses. At graduation, 90 per cent of these students tell us that they would prefer to work in rural areas,” he said.

Dr Arnold said students who complete extended rural placements were more likely to seek a career in a rural area than either students who had not done rural placements, or students who had a rural origin.

In April, the University of Sydney won $3 million in federal funds to establish Rural Training Hubs in Broken Hill, Dubbo and Lismore to boost rural-based training and career pathways for trainee doctors.

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