We don’t need more doctors, they just need to be better distributed.
That was the message of two young Bendigo doctors to assembled politicians and stakeholders in Canberra on Tuesday.
Skye Kinder and Louise Manning presented their take on the barriers to doctors putting down roots in regional, rural and remote areas. Their perspective was gleaned from research among junior doctors across Australia.
They hope that the presentation will influence health policy well into the future.
Dr Kinder and Dr Manning believe that the lack of training opportunities outside of cities for junior doctors to specialise means many put down roots in the cities, where they then stay.
Both doctors meet plenty of medical graduates who want a career in regional, rural or remote areas, but that they face a lack of access to training opportunities and jobs.
“We know that we’re making enough medical graduates,” Dr Manning said.
“It’s not that we need more doctors, it’s just that we need more opportunities to expose new doctors in particular to rural practise so that they’ll experience the diversity of rural practise and fall in love with the community and want to stay there.”
For Dr Kinder rural practice is a chance to care for all Australians.
“It’s an opportunity to provide care for people who fundamentally deserve that care, but often don’t have access to that care, and I think that’s really rewarding,” she said.
Your health shouldn’t be dictated by your postcode, but it often is.
Two Bendigo doctors are among those hoping to change this. And they’ll soon have the ear of policy-makers at the ready.
Both Skye Kinder and Louise Manning driven by the conviction that changing Australia’s training systems for junior doctors could see more specialists in regional areas, and improve health outcomes.
The pair will be among the rural doctors converging in Canberra on Tuesday to present their views to an audience of federal politicians in a keynote address.
Dr Kinder and Dr Manning will call for funding to set up a system that encourages junior doctors to work and train in rural, regional and remote areas.
The doctors hope to see a national rural generalist doctor scheme for people interested in pursuing rural general practice, and training hubs that let junior doctors learn a specialisation in regional areas.
Training for many specialisations is only available in capital cities.
Dr Kinder believes that changing this could see more doctors putting down roots in rural and regional areas, rather than in the big cities during their training.
The doctors’ recommendations are the result of research which surveyed training experiences among the ranks of junior doctors around Australia.
Part of the problem is how the system interacts with the stages of young doctors’ personal lives.
Many junior doctors are at the age when they’re beginning to settle down.
If they can only train in capital cities at this stage in their career, they are more likely to put down roots there.
It’s about ensuring everyone in Australia has equal access to healthcare, which I really believe speaks to the core Australian values of getting a fair go.Dr Skye Kinder
“When you are a junior doctor you usually are setting down roots, potentially starting a family, potentially looking at buying a home and settling down,” Dr Kinder said.
“For people who are being required to do all their training in the city, a lot of the decisions they make around their personal life will also be based in the cities.
“From our perspective it’s around changing the availability of rural terms for specialty training so that they can do some of their specialty training certainly in at least regional centres, if not rural centres.”
While Dr Kinder believes great work has been done encouraging medical school students to consider rural medicine, she has seen the message drop off during junior doctor years.
Originally from Bendigo, for Dr Kinder rural medicine is about her community, and communities like it.
“The reality is that patients living outside of the capital cities still have poorer health outcomes over every disease type,” Dr Kinder said.
“It’s about ensuring everyone in Australia has equal access to healthcare, which I really believe speaks to the core Australian values of getting a fair go.”
Meeting a need
Louise Manning can remember growing up in a small town.
It wasn’t that far out of Melbourne, but the Bendigo doctor can still remember what it was like not being able to get into the GP.
It meant travelling to Melbourne for basic things, like blood tests and scans.
It’s all been part of what grew Dr Manning’s passion for rural, regional and remote medicine.
Her love for the country was solidified by the chance to study in a rural area.
It took just six months back in Melbourne to realise that the country was where she wanted to be long term.
She believes more opportunities for doctors to train rurally and regionally at the right time in their careers would mean other young doctors did the same.
“It’s just a matter of encouraging and training doctors to go out at the right time in their career, before they’ve developed roots to the city so they can fall in love and want to stay out there,” Dr Manning said.
“We need to encourage people from their formative years in medical school and then in their junior years to fall in love with these areas so they want to stay.”
A rural generalist pathway – for which both Dr Kinder and Dr Manning will advocate – would create a streamlined pathway from graduating medical school to becoming a rural GP, with extra skills in anesthetics and obstetrics.
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