The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) has warned that the latest national data showing declining numbers of doctors in the rural medical workforce highlights the need for increasing funding into rural training pathways, especially GP training, and not new medical schools.
This week’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, Medical Practitioner Workforce 2015, showed that the overall supply of medical practitioners was lowest in outer regional and remote areas.
AMSA President, Elise Buisson, stated that a lack of funding for young doctors to train in regional, rural and remote Australia was a significant contributor.
“This latest report confirms that GP and specialist services in regional and rural Australia need sustainable investment. While overall rates of medical specialists and generalists are increasing nationally, they are decreasing in these areas where we need them the most,” said Ms Buisson.
“A 2015 OECD study showed that Australia has the highest medical graduate rate per capita with 3.4 per 1000, compared to New Zealand and the United Kingdom (2.8 per 1000) and the United States and Canada (2.6 per 1000), with Australian medical graduate numbers more than doubling in the past decade.
“Despite this, the people of rural and remote Australia still face worsening access to specialists and GPs, higher rates of chronic disease, and higher rates of death compared to those in our major cities.
“This rural doctor shortage is a problem not of numbers but of distribution, as doctors are faced with a lack of adequate training and working opportunities in rural communities.”
While many medical students and junior doctors are passionate about becoming regional and rural GPs and specialists, upon graduation they find there are few opportunities because of a shortage of accredited training positions outside of the metropolitan centres.
Furthermore, the AIHW report shows that the rural GP workforce is under threat by increasing hours of workload and an aging population. AMSA’s proposal for the expansion of rural GP and specialist training positions for junior doctors would serve to relieve this. In contrast, more medical schools producing more graduates without training opportunities would worsen the strain.
“Of all medical practitioners, GPs represent the most aging population of doctors, having the highest proportion aged 55 or over, while rural GPs work the most average hours per week compared to their metropolitan counterparts,” said Ms Buisson.
“We need to use evidence-based strategies to resolve rural workforce shortages, which includes making the funding of rural training positions a priority.”
The Government is set to establish a National Rural Health Commissioner. AMSA looks forward to working with them on these sustainable workforce strategies.