Letter | We need more rural doctors, not more medical students

PRESCRIPTION: Medical student Victoria Cook says it is training positions, not a new medical school, that will make a difference in finding doctors for the bush.
PRESCRIPTION: Medical student Victoria Cook says it is training positions, not a new medical school, that will make a difference in finding doctors for the bush.

IT was unfortunate to see such an inaccurate picture of rural medical education cast in last Tuesday’s editorial (“Our Say: Why some universities are created more equal than others”, Wednesday, December 20). 

Rural clinical schools already exist, staffed by committed and passionate doctors, academics and community members who care about rural health.

A new medical school is not the solution for more rural doctors.

To my rural clinical school, I’d like to thank them for their passion and care in providing an incredible rural experience.

It allowed me to come back to my home town and watch my classmates discover the delights of country living and country practice.

As a student of rural background who studies at a metro university, I am pleased to say that opportunities to study rurally as a medical student are ample and highly regarded.

I write this to remind readers that medical students are keen to study and work rurally, and more than 25 per cent of all Australian medical students come from a rural background.

Bathurst Hospital, for example, hosts students from the University of Sydney and Western Sydney University, many of whom originate from rural communities.

The idea that Charles Sturt University and La Trobe are peddling, that simply graduating more students will solve the rural doctor shortage, is disingenuous.

These medical students will have no way to stay and practice rurally.

Medical graduates are a long way from being independent doctors. They must complete at least one year of internship followed by several years in specialist training.

This is the case whether the end goal is to be a GP or a surgeon.

Rural internship places are already not keeping up with graduate demand - in Orange in 2017 there were over 100 applications for 16 internship positions.

Even these interns will struggle to complete specialist training rurally, as most programs are metro-based.

Once these doctors and their families are established in metropolitan areas it becomes much more difficult to return to rural practice.

The real answer is in providing junior doctors the jobs and training positions to be able to stay rural once they graduate. These doctors are ready and wanting to start rural training now.

The rural medical school experience already exists. Let’s not waste millions of dollars to simply duplicate it, whilst doing nothing to create a meaningful difference in the supply of fully-trained doctors in rural areas.

Let’s advocate instead for our junior doctors to train and become qualified here so they stay rural doctors.

Victoria Cook