Simple solution to fix our doctor shortage

GROWING NEED: La Trobe University vice-chancellor Professor John Dewar says rural clinical programs have contributed much to the understanding of strategies that help our communities to build a strong and sustainable medical workforce.
GROWING NEED: La Trobe University vice-chancellor Professor John Dewar says rural clinical programs have contributed much to the understanding of strategies that help our communities to build a strong and sustainable medical workforce.

Rurally based medical schools that recruit rural students who have a strong interest in rural practice are far better at growing the rural medical workforce.

This is why it is a simple case for the proposed Murray Darling Medical School in Bendigo, according to La Trobe University vice-chancellor and president, Professor John Dewar.

La Trobe University’s plan to establish the Murray Darling Medical School in Bendigo, in collaboration with Charles Sturt University in NSW, has been subject of much debate.

Our case has been, and continues to be, a simple one. 

After more than 15 years of government investment in various rural workforce initiatives, the latest data shows that the first preference for 85 per cent of metropolitan medical graduates is to work in urban areas – not rural practice.

Other research suggests that fewer than 10 per cent of graduates from typical metropolitan medical schools end up working in a rural or regional area once they have completed their training. 

Two studies for the federal government could find no evidence that rural exposure was directly linked to any increase in the number of medical graduates working in rural practice. 

In short, we need to strengthen our current approaches.

Fortunately, we know a lot more today than we did 15 years ago about effective recruitment of rural health and medical professionals. 

The weight of evidence is now clear.

Rurally based medical schools that preferentially recruit rural students who have a strong interest in rural practice are far better at growing the rural medical workforce than any other approach.

For example, studies of James Cook University’s medical school in rural Queensland found that more than 80 per cent of its final year medical students intend to work in rural practice.

In fact, over 60 per cent actually do. 

Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities have lived experience too.

More than 70 per cent of our regional campus students in health and medical sciences are from rural areas.

Between 70-85 per cent of these move into rural employment after graduation. 

Rural clinical programs have contributed much to our understanding of the strategies that help our communities to build a strong and sustainable medical workforce.

These programs will continue to be a core part of any future strategy. 

A genuinely rural medical school will build on these programs, while allowing us to give significantly more of our own local students a fair chance to study medicine.

It will also help to accelerate growth in the proportion of medical graduates choosing to work rurally. 

It will bring hundreds of new jobs and opportunities to Bendigo and surrounding towns.

For more than 15 years we have been pouring millions of dollars into metropolitan medical campuses in an attempt to fix rural doctor shortages.

Is this really the best we can do to help rural communities?

At the last federal election, the Nationals committed to delivering the Murray Darling Medical School in government.

It was the right solution then, and the evidence since that time has reaffirmed that it is the right solution now. 

- Professor John Dewar, La Trobe University vice-chancellor and president