John Dwyer AO announced as head of proposed Murray Darling Medical School, but students' union remain opposed

Professor John Dwyer AO, Nationals MP Andrew Gee and National Farmers Federal chief executive officer Tony Mahar.
Professor John Dwyer AO, Nationals MP Andrew Gee and National Farmers Federal chief executive officer Tony Mahar.

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A PROMINENT Sydney doctor who has lead the charge for a new medical school in Bendigo has been named as the school’s potential foundation professor of medicine and surgery.

Professor John Dwyer AO, who served as the head of the University of New South Wales’ School of Medicine for two decades, will lead the push for $50 million in funding to get the plan off the ground.

He wrote a 660-word opinion piece outlining why he believes the Murray Darling Medical School – planned for Bendigo, Wagga Wagga and Orange – could help to address the rural doctor shortage.

Professor Dwyer said previous strategies had failed to solve the problem.

“Over the past two decades, numerous strategies have been tried to reverse the situation but none have been particularly successful,” he said.

“The evidence tells us that we need to train medical students who live, and love living, in the country and who, on entry to medical school, are attracted to a rural career.

“So we must train them in a rural university with a rural-focused curriculum that provides the skills needed for a successful rural practice.”

Bendigo, Wagga Wagga and Orange each already host medical schools under the Rural Clinical School program.

The Murray Darling Medical School would add 60 new medical places for each of the three regional cities and offers more time in regional areas compared with the Rural Clinical Schools.

It will be run as a partnership between La Trobe and Charles Sturt universities.

Professor Dwyer said opposition to the plan – lead by the Australian Medical Students Association – did “not acknowledge the need for change nor the evidence on which the model is based”.

AMSA rural health committee co-chair Brad Wittmer contested this point, and said there were a range of other solutions that could help encourage medical graduates to stay in the country.

The student body has repeatedly called for greater specialist training pathways in regional areas, with medical graduates usually required to spend six years in Melbourne after they complete their degrees.

Mr Wittmer said the Murray Darling Medical School proposal would not solve the specialist training problem.

“There’s no expansion of internship programs or specialist training places in regional areas as part of this proposal,” he said.

“There is no correlation at this point that suggests more students graduating equates to more doctors in rural areas.

“Given that the federal budget is so tight at the moment, we’re worried that if they spend $50 million shuffling around medical school places, it will mean funding won’t be delivered to where it’s actually needed.”