The prospects for the proposed Murray Darling Medical School (MDMS) have been boosted by the recent visit by federal parliamentarians to Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Orange.
CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann (pictured) welcomed the positive engagement from Assistant Minister for Rural Health, the Hon David Gillespie MP, and Member for Calare, Mr Andrew Gee MP, during the recent visit.
"I thank the Minister and Mr Gee for their visit, and I'm optimistic that common sense will prevail, and the MDMS will be delivered," Professor Vann said.
"The visit again demonstrated the University's capacity to deliver doctors for the bush, as we have with a wide variety of allied health professions over recent decades," Professor Vann added.
The Minister's visit follows his current review of Australia's 20 year-old policy regime concerning increasing the number of Australian medical graduates working in rural and regional Australia.
"The Minister's Discussion Paper acknowledged that, after 20 years of the current policy, projections show an oversupply of doctors in major cities, yet continued critical shortages for rural and regional communities," Professor Vann stated.
"I believe the Minister can see that old policies are not working and that our MDMS proposal offers a practical way forward to address the problem," he added.
In 2014 Health Workforce Australia (HWA) concluded geographic maldistribution of doctors continues and that 'the gap between inner metropolitan areas and the rest of Australia has widened further'.
In CSU's joint submission with La Trobe University to the Minister's review, we demonstrated that delivery of medical education in major cities, with periods of rural exposure for medical students, has failed to significantly increase rural medical career intention or rural practice outcomes.
"Nationally, the data shows that rural career intention declined from 20 to 23 per cent between 2005-12 at commencement, to 15 to 18 per cent between 2010-15 at graduation – the opposite of what current policies were intended to achieve," Professor Vann said.
"This is the result of the attitudes towards rural practice and life circumstances formed during undergraduate education in the current system, not a lack of rural medical training places.
"Over the last 20 years, new research on rural recruitment and retention confirms that rural medical schools that provide rural students with undergraduate and postgraduate education and training in rural areas are the most effective solution for growing the rural medical workforce," Professor Vann added.
Reflecting on these studies (examples included below) Professor Vann said the last 20 years has shown that dedicated, region-specific rural medical schools ─ such as the MDMS ─ are required if we are to address the ongoing critical shortage of rural doctors.
"This is also what rural communities want – a local medical school that they can be involved with, where their kids, rural kids, can go to become rural doctors," Professor Vann said.
"After 20 years, there is a unique opportunity to evolve our approach to rural medical education and training based on the success of regional and rural universities and medical schools, in growing the rural health and medical workforce.
"I urge the Minister and the Australian Government to expedite this common sense solution to the abiding problem of rural doctor shortages and facilitate the establishment of the Murray Darling Medical School."
Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084
Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Professor Andrew Vann.
The parliamentarians visited CSU in Orange on Monday 20 February.
Example 1: In Australia a study found a total of 51 per cent of James Cook University (JCU) PGY-1 medical graduates (interns) between 2006-13 were practicing in Townsville, Cairns, Mackay or Darwin Health Service Districts (HSD). Four to nine years after graduation 34 per cent of graduates were still working as doctors in Townsville, Cairns, Mackay or Darwin HSD (note, this does not include graduates working in other rural and regional areas). JCU students from outer regional and remote areas were 4.8 times and 9.5 times more likely respectively to be working rurally, compared to metropolitan students.
Example 2: At the rural Northern Ontario Medical School (NOSM) in Canada, 94 per cent of medical graduates who had completed their undergraduate or postgraduate training at NOSM were working as GPs in northern Ontario. Among those 27 per cent were working in rural areas. The study found that completing both undergraduate and postgraduate training at NOSM predicted practising in rural and northern Ontario locations with odds ratios of 4.06 to 48.62 times.