How Can We Get Doctors To Work And Live In Remote Australia?

While numbers in the rural medical workforce are improving, many still claim those in regional Australia are missing out. It’s an issue the Rural Doctors Association will raise again when it asks for more money for country health from the Federal Budget. Dr Jean Covey, a General Practitioner in the north Queensland town of Charters Towers, says the shortage of doctors is very apparent there. “We are fully booked every week,” she says. “The (waiting) time to see any of our doctors is usually three weeks, and for myself personally it’s six weeks.” Dr Covey is desperate for a change of policy that would introduce better incentives for people to work in small towns like Charters Towers, rather than major regional centres. “We have, like many rural towns, have relied on overseas trained doctors” she says. “In 2009 the Federal Government changed the regional remoteness rating scheme, which has made it difficult in many of the small towns.” The current statistics point to an upswing in the numbers of doctors in regional Australia. In a report last month, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that remote and very remote parts of Australia actually now have more GPs per capita than anywhere else in the country, thanks to a 16 percent rise in the number of medical practitioners working in the bush. But organisations like the Rural Health Workforce Australia say despite the increase people in regional Australia still face significant disadvantages when it comes to health care. With a quarter of the nation’s doctors due to retire in the next few years, the focus is now on the next batch of graduates. Townsville’s James Cook University runs a medical school, with a focus on rural Australia. The Dean of the JCU Medical School and the president of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Professor Richard Murray, says getting doctors to work in the bush is a complex question. Particularly, he believes there needs to be a rethink on the types of students encouraged to study medicine. “We as educators sometimes overestimate our ability to change people.” “I think fundamentally the people who you recruit, are the people you graduate” he says. Of course, there’ll always be city kids becoming doctors, but there are people studying medicine that don’t fit the stereotype.

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