COMMENT: Charles Sturt University and communities across regional Australia should be concerned that its proposal to open a rural medical school is struggling to gain traction.
Its latest plan, a $46 million joint venture with La Trobe University, addressed many issues around a shortage of internship training places after students graduate but it suffered another setback last week when a student body attacked the concept.
The Australian Medical Students’ Association said that this year almost 100 international students would fail to get the training place they needed to qualify as doctors.
The association believes federal funding would be better spent creating more internship places for the medical graduates Australian institutions are already producing than producing more graduates.
It says there is no per capita shortage of rural doctors but rather a shortage of rural specialists. This is an argument which will confound those people in regional and rural Australia forced to wait weeks to see either a GP or a specialist.
As the head of the proposed CSU/La Trobe medical school told the Central Western Daily, while there are plenty of GPs and specialists on the coastal fringe and in well resourced centres like Orange, it can be a different story in smaller regional towns.
In the current climate of budget austerity in Canberra the message from the medical students will fall on more receptive ears.
In addition to the institutional opposition to CSU and La Trobe joining the medical school club, the two universities face the challenge of winning over the students’ association.
The association has seen international students stranded in Australia without an internship in the past. This is damaging to Australia’s reputation as provider of education and could be costly for universities relying on fee from international students.
CSU and La Trobe believe the shortage of internships can be overcome and the shortage of GPs in regional areas will only get worse unless they are allowed to run a true rural medical school.
Until they win the argument rural health services will suffer.