Rural Doctors Association Australia says more post-graduate places the key to more rural doctors

Supportive: Rural Doctors Association CEO Peta Rutherford has backed the AMA's five-point plan for rural doctors. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

Supportive: Rural Doctors Association CEO Peta Rutherford has backed the AMA's five-point plan for rural doctors. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

The multi-faceted approach to building a rural medical workforce suggested by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has been welcomed by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA).

On Tuesday the AMA released a five-point plan on how to boost the number of doctors in regional and remote Australia.

It included a plan to increase the number of medical students from regional areas and ensure that all students do at least one year of training in a rural area.

But it stressed that professional assistance wasn’t the only thing needed to attract doctors to regional areas.

The AMA also raised the need for a "rewarding and sustainable" work environment, which included “flexible work arrangements”, as well as financial incentives.

In addition, family support would play a crucial role, the AMA concluded, including employment opportunities for a spouse, and educational availability for children.

RDAA CEO Peta Rutherford said their view lined up with the AMA, having previously called for more students with a rural background to be taken into training.

She said it was just as crucial that the pathways were available for students to train in regional areas after they finished their medical studies.

“We certainly agree with the AMA that there is no one silver bullet to fix this problem,” Ms Rutherford said. 

“Instead that multi-faceted approach is needed and the sooner we get it right, the sooner the problem can be fixed. It is something that won’t happen immediately.”

The Murray Darling Medical School, a joint venture between Charles Sturt University and La Trobe University to train 180 students at campuses in Wagga Wagga, Orange and Bendigo doesn’t have the backing of the RDAA. 

Ms Rutherford said training more medical students without increasing post-graduate opportunities wouldn’t solve the problem.

“We think it is more important to focus on increasing the opportunities for junior doctors, increasing internships, rather than training more students,” Ms Rutherford said.

“If students have to do their internship in a major city because they can’t get a place in the country, there is a big chance they will stay there.

“It’s also important that medical students and junior doctors are given the training to equip them with the skills for working in a rural setting, which is so different to working in a major city or even a large regional city.”

Being a doctor working in a small town could also create issues for those who have a family because of the long hours and being on call, but also employment and education problems could be barriers,” Ms Rutherford said.

“It’s just as important that there are the opportunities for their families to become part of the community,” she said.

“What we sometimes see is young doctors who have to leave because the education opportunities aren’t there for their children. 

“They might only stay in a town until their child reaches an age where they can no longer be educated locally before they look to move.”