AMA Sets Out Strategy To Get More Doctors Working in Rural and Regional Australia
By Australian Medical Association
Nov 26, 2005, 16:29

AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, warned today that country Australians are experiencing a severe inequity of access to medical services that could last generations unless urgent concerted coordinated action is taken to address the rural medical workforce crisis.

Releasing the AMA Position Statement on Regional/Rural Workforce Initiatives in Sydney, Dr Haikerwal said training a medical workforce with the necessary skills and the desire and motivation to work in country practice will take time and significant resources and incentives.

"The medical workforce solutions for the long term must be all about making living and working in rural and remote communities more attractive now and into the future," Dr Haikerwal said.

"There must be incentives, not compulsion, to attract and retain our GPs and other medical people. Getting more country kids into medical schools must has to be a priority.

"While the AMA supports the right of doctors to live and work where they choose, the medical profession will work to ensure equitable community access to a well-trained medical workforce.

"The harsh reality is that equity of access to quality medical care in country areas is eroding fast and will take generations to turn around unless action is taken now.

"The AMA Position Statement sets out practical achievable initiatives that all governments, the medical profession and communities should work on together to get more doctors and other health professionals working in country Australia."

As this table from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publication �Medical Labour Force 2001� shows, around 80 per cent of the medical workforce lives and works in our major capital cities.

"There are fewer doctors still working out in the bush now. Those there are older and, as they head off to retire, there are too few new younger doctors coming to replace them. This means patients have to wait longer, go to another town, or not see a doctor at all � and this is not good for the health of rural communities," Dr Haikerwal said.

"The rural GPs and other specialists still in practice are highly skilled and dedicated but they can only do so much without additional resources or new colleagues.

"It is important that we get young doctors out there soon to learn from the established and experienced country doctors before they all disappear. The secrets and successes of country medicine must be passed on to a new generation of Australian doctors.

"Overseas trained doctors are welcome additions to plug workforce gaps in some areas but they must be considered a short term solution.

"We have to train more of our own doctors, with a greater number of medical students from country areas, if we are to restore country medical practice as a great Australian tradition.

"Country Australia has lost a lot of its services such as banks and post offices and corner stores. We must support our rural communities and not let our country doctors go down the same road to extinction," Dr Haikerwal said.

The AMA Position Statement on Regional/Rural Workforce Initiatives includes a range of proposals covering Education and Training, Postgraduate Medical Education, Continuing Medical Education, Remuneration and Incentives, Family Support, Hospital Work Practices and Infrastructure, Community Funded Facilities, Outreach Programs, Red Tape, Nurses, Rosters, Locum Services, Overseas Trained Doctors, Telemedicine, Benefits of Regional/Rural Practice, and Access To Community Services.

The AMA strategy for all these areas is based on key principles, including:

* The early and continuing exposure of medical school students to regional/rural medicine and measures to encourage students from regional/rural areas to enrol in medical schools are the most likely of all initiatives to increase the workforce in these areas
* Proper medical infrastructure, a strong training experience, and access to community and professional resources, and continuing medical education are essential to the provision of a rewarding professional and personal experience
* Consideration must be given to not only the needs of the medical practitioner, but also their family � particularly with respect to access to employment opportunities, health and education, and social amenities
* A critical mass of doctors within a region is important in improving the viability of a practice, as well as enhancing professional development
* Appropriate remuneration and incentives are essential to attract and retain medical practitioners.

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