THE medical students’ union says funding for regional training hubs is a good “first step” in keeping graduates in Bendigo after their degrees, but more work needs to be done.
The federal government announced Monash University in Bendigo would host one of the country’s 26 regional training hubs, giving medical graduates more opportunities to complete post-graduate training here rather than having to relocate to Melbourne.
The new Bendigo hospital is central to the plan – and postgraduate training opportunities will be allocated on a needs-basis specific for the region.
Australian Medical Students’ Association rural health committee co-chair Brad Wittmer said it would encourage students interested in rural health to stay regional after their degrees.
“It is definitely going to help retain rural students and help improve employment opportunities at regional hospitals,” he said.
“This is a major step towards flipping the model, where students will instead spend most of their time in a rural setting rather than in a metropolitan hospital.
“We still think there needs to be more funding allocated to increase these training opportunities however.”
There are currently 100 medical students in Bendigo, training at the Rural Clinical School run between Monash and Melbourne universities.
Professor Robyn Langham, head of the Monash University School of Rural Health, said the training hubs were about “flipping” the current specialist training model to be more rurally-focused.
“The aim is to be able to provide what’s needed in regional areas. For example, Bendigo could certainly do with more general surgeons,” she said.
“Every hub will be different, and will focus on the need for the region.
“In Geelong, you can become a general surgeon by training wholly in Geelong. That’s something we want to see happen elsewhere in country Victoria.
“You ask the students and they will tell you: there’s currently no pathway in country Victoria. This is about flipping that model.”
La Trobe University and Charles Sturt University have proposed the Murray Darling Medical School, to provide a further 80 medical student places in Bendigo.
Professor Langham said country Victoria already had higher per-capita numbers of medical students than Melbourne, and it was not the answer to address the rural doctor shortage.
But La Trobe University acting vice-chancellor Professor Rob Pike said there was a need to boost undergraduate opportunities at rural universities.
“The Murray Darling Medical School will help to ensure a strong flow of undergraduate students who are trained in, and want to work in, the regions,” he said.
“Building a pipeline of regionally trained undergraduate students who can then undertake high quality postgraduate training in our region is a tried and tested pathway to addressing doctor shortages in regional and rural areas.”
The medical students’ body has opposed the Murray Darling Medical School plan each step of the way, claiming it would take funding away from boosting specialist training opportunities in regional areas.