What is Rural General Practice?
Rural general practice provides its own diversity of contexts and characteristics. In rural and remote Australia, geographical and demographic features lead to great diversity in both the ranges of presentations a general practitioner may encounter and the facilities that may be available to them to administer primary care. Research has shown that rural general practitioners are more likely to be able to provide in-hospital care as well as private consulting room care, to provide after hours services, to engage in public health roles expected of them by discrete communities in which there are few doctors to choose from, to engage in clinical procedures, to engage in emergency care, to encounter a higher burden of complex or chronic health presentations, and to encounter larger proportions of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients in their overall patient load.
The extent to which the GP will engage in any of these activities and roles, however, will depend entirely on the rural or remote context in which they choose to practice, or the range of general practice skills in which they wish to involve themselves. Some rural doctors in smaller rural towns, for instance, are based primarily at the local hospital, but the practice they conduct is still predominantly primary medical care, even though some secondary and, in cases, tertiary care is also possible due to the hospital facilities. Whilst their practice thus conforms to the core curriculum set for its Fellowship by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, it will also involve specific skills sets appropriate to the rural and/or remote health context in which they find themselves. These skills sets may be practiced at an extended or advanced level, depending on patient requirements. These characteristics and practices are supported by the RACGP Standards of Practice and a curriculum developed and maintained by the College and reflected in the Fellowship in Advanced Rural General Practice.
The Australian Government can formally recognise a doctor as a general practitioner. This Vocational Recognition allows a GP's services to be eligible for a Medicare rebate. In order to maintain recognition, a GP is required to complete ongoing education. The Commonwealth differentiates general practitioners from ‘specialists’, which the Commonwealth recognises on the strength that they earn more than half of their income by accessing specialist items in the MBS. Accreditation of the RACGP as a specialist medical college by the Australian Medical Council in 2003 reflects the RACGP’s view that a general practitioner is no more or less a specialist than any other medical specialist, and should be remunerated accordingly.