Now that Macquarie Medical School has opened its doors for its first batch of newly minted medical students, the health workforce of Australia approaches a crossroads. As each year passes, matching graduating medical students to an internship is becoming more difficult, with international medical students bearing most of the consequences and failing to secure a job. Worse still, Charles Sturt University and LaTrobe University are currently lobbying to open yet another medical school – the Murray Darling Medical School. While there still remains a shortage of medical practitioners in rural and remote areas, more medical graduates is definitely not the solution to this problem.
Clearly, creating more medical graduates is not solving the issue.
More than 10 years ago, it was decided that there was not enough doctors to address the healthcare needs of the Australian people, which resulted in a boom of medical schools and an increase in medical student numbers. It was understood then that rural and remote areas were most affected, and steps were taken to increase the numbers of doctors working in these communities. However, a shortage of doctors still remains in these areas today. In 2014, there were 2.53 medical practitioners per 1,000 people in rural and remote areas, compared to 4.09 medical practitioners per 1,000 people in metropolitan areas. Clearly, creating more medical graduates is not solving the issue.
Australians living in rural and remote areas experience poorer health outcomes than their metropolitan counterparts, including suffering from a greater number of important risk factors, increased prevalence of chronic diseases, and a higher mortality rate. These health disparities are exacerbated by poor access to and use of healthcare services. It is clear that more needs to be done to improve rural and remote healthcare services, and reverse these unacceptable health inequities.
Despite the already high volume of graduating medical students, the current limited availability of opportunities to train rurally means that these graduates are not coming to practice in rural and remote areas.
However, funding new medical schools and increasing medical student numbers is not the answer. Despite the already high volume of graduating medical students, the current limited availability of opportunities to train rurally means that these graduates are not coming to practice in rural and remote areas. The lack of reform in the training pathway to become a rural-practicing doctor is the issue that needs to be addressed. The Australian government should instead be spending more money on fixing this system and ensuring that junior doctors are able to train in rural and remote areas during their vocational training. The agreement to develop a framework for a national Rural Generalist pathway is an important step in the right direction, and the Australian government must focus their efforts on building on this commitment.
Yesterday, AMSA launched a Call Your MP campaign that aims to show our government that Australian medical students are united against the funding of new medical schools and further increases in medical student numbers. You can attend the Facebook event to keep up-to-date with the campaign, call your MP (instructions can be found here), and encourage other students to engage in the campaign. Contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this campaign.
Join us in urging our nation’s leaders to focus on improving rural training pathways for doctors to fully and sustainably address the health inequities experienced by rural and remote Australians. #fixitdontfloodit
All the global health love,
AMSA Global Health Vice Chair External 2018
How can Australia have too many doctors, but still not meet patient needs? (The Conversation)
Rural and Remote Health (Report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)