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Bush doctor fund block

Friday, 5th July, 2013

Prof Alison Jones Prof Alison Jones

By Andrew Robertson

Medical graduates “desperate to work in the bush” are unable to because they can not get postgraduate positions, according to a university professor who has called for funding to fix the problem.

Prof Alison Jones says the University of Wollongong (UOW) is fulfilling its charter of producing medical interns who come from - and ultimately want to practice in - country areas.

The university’s Graduate School of Medicine (GSM) is the only medical school in Australia that specifically targets students from a rural or regional background.

On average almost 60 per cent of the first three graduating cohorts in 2010, 2011 and 2012 are continuing their training with internships in non-metropolitan areas.

According to the university, this year 70 per cent of first-year students are from regional and rural backgrounds, compared to the national average of 25 per cent.

But Prof Jones said yesterday that a lack of postgraduate training positions meant many graduates who were “desperate to work in the bush” could be lost to the city because they had nowhere to complete their training.

Graduates must complete an internship before they can become fully-fledged doctors.

The UOW is seeking support to develop a postgraduate medical training pipeline program that would ensure graduates are able to complete internships in the country areas, including Broken Hill.

Prof Jones said financial support from government was needed first to ensure positions were available.

“Universities in partnership with health services should be pushing for funding,” she said.

Prof Jones, who is dean of the GSM, also believes the school must expand training to other health-related fields “to further support the sustainability” of the medical student program.

“What we’ve set up for medicine ... it could be used as a foundation to train others,” she told the BDT.

As the most remote of the Graduate School of Medicine’s 10 network “hubs”, Broken Hill presented a unique challenge to students and doctors committed to working in the region, according to Prof Jones.

She said the city’s isolation made it difficult and expensive for practitioners to “maintain currency” through training and accreditation.

“It really hits places like Broken Hill.”

She said the government’s decision to cap the tax-free training allowance for doctors to just $2000 would only make it worse.

Having a strong university presence in Broken Hill, so students and doctors did not have to travel to receive training, was one way of overcoming the problem.

“Having a strong university presence is important to create a ... team approach to medicine,” she said.

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