Training young doctors

The Rural Clinical School at the Australian National University is reaping the rewards of a training program based on rural placements, says associate dean Professor Amanda Barnard.

The school aims to challenge students’ misconceptions about country medicine and open eyes to opportunities in rural areas.

It also seeks to keep young doctors in rural areas by providing training opportunities that might otherwise be city based.

While doctors are always needed in rural areas, most early training for medical graduates is city based, meaning doctors are likely to put down roots and stay in cities, Professor Barnard said.

“What we know is that the evidence shows us, if you train people rurally, they’re going to be more inclined to come back rurally,” Professor Barnard said.

“But often, the training that junior doctors do, there are only positions available in the city, and then it becomes really hard if you want to go rurally, because you’ve set down your roots and things.

“So the government is very keen to increase the numbers of doctors who are training rurally before they finish.”

All students spend at least six weeks in a rural practice in their third year, with an option to spend the full year. 

These weeks enthuse students about the opportunities rural medical practice presents. 

“That sparks a lot of interest,” Professor Barnard said. “It opens their eyes.”

Doctor John Sullivan, who spent a year in Bega as part of his medical studies with the school, says it meant he experienced a wide range of aspects of medical practice.

Having grown up in a rural area, he wasn’t afraid of the country, but the year gave him valuable experience in the practicalities of rural medical practice.

“It was great,” Dr Sullivan said. 

“It was a good experience. We got a good exposure to surgery, emergency medicine, general practice.”

Having completed his training at the school, Dr Sullivan has now come full circle, recently beginning work at the Braidwood Medical Centre.

A recent funding announcement saw the south east region receive funding to develop a regional training hub as part of the Department of Health’s Integrated Rural Training Pipeline, which seeks to keep medical graduates in rural areas. 

The hub will work with local health services to help students continue in rural training throughout university and postgraduate study.

ANU’s Rural Clinical School is already seeing the rewards of the program. After six to nine years out of university, between 50 and 60 per cent of its cohort are working in a rural area, says Professor Barnard.