'A REBALANCING' of the medical workforce is the next major step in improving health outcomes for rural communities.
Charles Sturt Vice-Chancellor Professor Renee Leon made the comment during Friday's official opening of the $22 million School of Rural Medicine by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Minister for Regional Health Dr David Gillespie and Minister for Defence Personnel and Minister for Veterans Affairs, Member for Calare Andrew Gee.
The School of Rural Medicine, which is on CSU's Leeds Parade campus, is a joint initiative between CSU and Western Sydney University with the first cohort last year's intake of 37 students. Another 39 began their training this year.
But Prof Leon said there was a capacity to fill up to 60 places, which would make it a more viable offering, especially considering there were almost 1000 applicants for an Orange placement.
"What we're keen to see is the government recognise that we need to have a rebalancing of the medical workforce in the regions and in the metropolitan areas," Prof Leon said.
"I think the government's own medical work force strategy is starting to recognise that.
"There's a significant supply of doctors in metropolitan areas and a much-reduced supply in regional areas which is driving really poor health outcomes for the citizens of regional Australia.
"So we hope that that's been heard loud and clear, not just for this partnership between Western Sydney and Charles Sturt, but for the rest of the medical schools in the regional networks."
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Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Nationals were committed to increasing the number of health professionals in regional and rural communities.
"Aspiring doctors from the bush shouldn't have to leave their home town to pursue their dream, nor should regional Australians have to travel to receive the care they need," Mr Joyce said.
"Our investment in the School of Rural Medicine will help deliver Australia's future regional health workforce while ensuring locals can access timely and appropriate care in their own communities."
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Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover AO backed up Prof Leon's comments, stating the 'pipeline' needed to be widened.
"We have a five to six year window to take a medical students from year one through to being an intern, let alone being a GP in regional NSW, and as I've said the ministers that are here and the Deputy Prime Minister, we need more places now," Prof Glover said.
Federal Member for Calare Andrew Gee said the program will enable the next generation of students to provide excellent healthcare to our country communities.
He also praised the communities that pushed hard for the school's establishment in Orange.
"Country people deserve the same access to medical services as people in the cities," Mr Gee said, adding the research suggests that when students are trained in rural areas, they are more likely to stay in rural areas.
"The CSU Medical School will play a key role in making sure country people, including those from our region, can become local doctors," Mr Gee said.
"Our region fought for years to get this medical school established against entrenched opposition. We can all take pride in the fact that it will be training doctors in the bush for practice in the bush for generations to come."
Orange Mayor Jason Hamling, who also attended the opening, praised the work of former mayors in bringing the schools to the Leeds Parade campus, including Reg Kidd.
"To see it get over the line is just great," Cr Hamling said.
"This medical school just blends in with the health precinct we have out of Bloomfield. We're a major health hub here in Orange and this just tops if off."
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2021 report on the health of rural and remote Australians shows the disparity between health outcomes and access to health services for communities in rural and regional Australia in comparison to those living in metropolitan areas, partially a result of the shortage of doctors in rural and remote communities.
The curriculum for the Medicine course has been designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills required to work in all locations.
"The Doctor of Medicine clinical training model will equip our students with knowledge and skills to offer health care across a wide variety of health issues that arise in rural communities. This is then supported by training in speciality areas," Professor Leon said.
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