Speaking after the recent publication of a University of Queensland study which found medical students from a rural background were more likely to pursue careers in rural and regional areas, Monash SRH Head of School Professor Judi Walker said the Monash study had a number of objectives.
“The study seeks to establish the intention of students to practise in a rural location, examine their origins and to correlate the outcome of rural location of professional practice to rural placement during undergraduate training,” she said.
Monash SRH operates multiple sites across rural and regional Victoria, providing undergraduate clinical training placements for medical students - in the last three years of their Monash medical course - at major regional centres including Mildura.
Professor Walker said the first cohort of medical students through SRH sites was in 2004.
“As it takes about 10 to 13 years to complete medical training we are only just beginning to be able to provide data on the whereabouts of doctors who have undergone part of their undergraduate medical training at our rural sites,” she said.
Professor Walker said anecdotal evidence showed that in Mildura in 2012, eight junior doctors at the Mildura Base Hospital had spent time at SRH Mildura as undergraduates. Last year five of the junior doctors had spent time as SRH Mildura students with one staying on as a GP registrar.
Formal data developed so far for commencing Monash cohorts 2004-2008 – including Australian Health Practitioner Authority figures – shows 10 percent of medical graduate from these cohorts were now practicing in a rural area.
Professor Walker said the severely uneven distribution of doctors between urban and rural areas was compounded by “extremely limited” post graduate training opportunities, forcing graduates back to capital cities for four to seven years at a critical time in their careers. “It is unlikely that they will then return,” she said.
“In 2014 more than 80 percent of Victorian rural and regional intern posts were taken up by Monash, Deakin and University of Melbourne graduates and a number are working at regional hospitals in other states,” Professor Walker said. “However regional hospitals vary in the number of intern and registrar training posts available.”
Professor Walker said there was broad policy consensus that one solution to the shortage of doctors in rural and regional Australia was to establish programs providing ‘end to end training’, meaning medical school to completion of postgraduate training in regional settings.
“The three medical schools in Victoria are working together on strategies to address this but in the meantime it is critical to develop and maintain a strong evidence base through medical graduate tracking studies,” she said.