A New England doctor has welcomed a plan to boost the workforce and the access to care in rural and remote areas.
Lauren Cone said the Australian Medical Association (AMA) position statement, released on Tuesday, “recognises the complexities that rural doctors are currently facing”.
The AMA outlines a five-point plan in its Position Statement – Rural Workforce Initiatives.
It proposes initiatives in education and training, rural generalist pathways, work environments, support for doctors and their families, and financial incentives.
Dr Cone is a former Gunnedah resident and now the clinical dean at Peel Clinical School with the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health in Tamworth.
She said there were many positives to working outside the big cities, but “getting doctors work in rural areas is one thing and keeping them is something completely different”.
“It seems like within the plan there are more facets to aid retention of doctors and not just recruitment,” Dr Cone said.
“It also views them not as a service but as a person - and a person who should have a normal lifestyle regardless of their career.”
No need for more schools
AMA president Michael Gannon, said the seven million Australians living in regional, rural and remote area often had more trouble accessing health services than their city counterparts.
However, he said, “Australia does not need more medical schools or more medical school places”.
“Workforce projections suggest that Australia is heading for an oversupply of doctors,” Dr Gannon said.
“Targeted initiatives to increase the size of the rural medical, nursing, and allied health workforce are what is required.”
Dr Cone said the AMA plan covered many of the factors that affected doctors and their families.
“It focuses on more than just the doctor; it also looks at housing issues, education issues and employment issues for other family members that can often be a challenge for rural doctors,” she said.
The five points
The AMA’s plan outlines five key areas where governments and other stakeholders must focus their policy efforts:
- Encourage students from rural areas to enrol in medical school, and provide medical students with opportunities for positive and continuing exposure to regional/rural medical training;
- Provide a dedicated and quality training pathway with the right skill mix to ensure doctors are adequately trained to work in rural areas;
- Provide a rewarding and sustainable work environment with adequate facilities, professional support and education, and flexible work arrangements, including locum relief;
- Provide family support that includes spousal opportunities/employment, educational opportunities for children’s education, subsidies for housing/relocation and/or tax relief; and
- Provide financial incentives to ensure competitive remuneration.