There needs to be more placements for graduating doctors in regional hubs such as Broome to maintain a rural medical workforce, according to a new study.
The new research has found medical graduates who have rural experience are more likely to take up work in regional clinics.
Conducted as a collaborative project by 10 rural clinical schools at universities across Australia — including University of Sydney, University of Notre Dame and University of Western Australia — the study sought to determine how experience in Australia’s regional towns might impact on a medical graduate’s decision to practise in rural clinics.
The team looked at more than 1000 medical students and then where they were eight years on from graduation.
The research found graduates who were of rural origin or who had undertaken extended rural placements were more likely than others to move to, or remain in, a rural practice.
“The Australian Government has invested heavily in programs that encourage students to train in rural and remote areas and to incentivise doctors to practise in these areas,” University of Sydney’s School of Rural Health associate professor and senior author of the study Georgina Luscombe said.
“This study confirms what previous research had suggested — that we can potentially grow the rural medical workforce by increasing the proportion of rural origin students admitted to medical schools.
“But also, by increasing opportunities for students originating from metropolitan areas to have those extended placement opportunities in clinical schools in places like Dubbo, Orange and Broome.”
University of Notre Dame research assistant and lead author Alexa Seal said it was important to follow graduates over time to try to identify whether their early intentions about where they would like to practise were later realised.
“Factors such as inadequate levels of workforce in rural areas, limited training opportunities, fears of social and professional isolation and restricted employment opportunities for partners can often influence junior doctors when they are making decisions about where to train and practise,” Dr Seal said.
“Studies such as this and further research is needed to understand the barriers and opportunities that are shaping medical students’ decision-making, and how we can effectively grow and sustain a rural medical workforce to meet the needs of our communities.”