The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is launching an innovative nationwide GP ‘matchmaking’ pilot program to improve access and quality of care for patients, particularly those in rural and remote communities.
The Practice to Practice pilot program will connect practices and GPs in diverse geographical areas and run from 1 March 2021 – 31 December 2021. During this time, urban practices and GPs will match with their counterparts in rural and remote Australia to share skills and support, and maximise quality services for patients across the country.
Practices and GPs can register their interest to be involved on the RACGP website. Once accepted, they’ll be able to connect and match with others in the pilot to tackle challenges together, while GPs will benefit from professional development opportunities, peer support, the opportunity to locum in the other practice – and experience life as a working GP in another location, opening up new career possibilities.
Places for the pilot program are limited and registrations of interest are now open online here: https://www.racgp.org.au/the-racgp/faculties/rural/practice-to-practice
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements, who practices in Townsville, said the pilot program was off to a flying start, with more than 40 practices submitting expressions of interest before the launch.
“As Australia’s largest professional general practice organisation representing urban, rural and remote GPs, the RACGP is perfectly placed to facilitate these connections,” he said.
“This pilot program will benefit not only rural GPs and their communities, but also those in the city. As a GP who visits remote towns myself, I know the valuable experiences we can offer our colleagues in the city – rural GPs consistently report high job satisfaction, rewarding community connection and enjoyment from a diverse scope of practice.
“Ultimately, we want to improve access to high quality general practice care nationwide.
“We know that rural Australia faces serious GP workforce shortages. However, at the same time there are GPs who would like to support rural locations more, be it through regular rural placements or telehealth support, but don’t feel they have the connections or confidence to do so.
“The Practice to Practice pilot program will expose GPs to the challenges and benefits of living in a different area. This is significant because the research has shown that GPs who gain exposure to work and life in a rural community are more likely to choose to go rural permanently.
“This is a simple solution that can make a big difference
“We know these arrangements work. There have been practices doing it in different ways across the country for many years, and their patients and communities are reaping the benefits.
“That’s why the RACGP has taken this step to create a national pilot program recognising and sharing these types of arrangements, so more practices and communities can benefit.”
One such project has been undertaken in a collaboration between RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz, and Dr Kate Davey, who practices in Wangaratta.
A GP in Wangaratta for 38 years, Dr Davey was near retirement, facing a problem all too common for rural GPs: nobody wanted to take her rural job, and she didn’t want to leave her patients without someone to care for them.
Dr Davey teamed up with Dr Munoz after hearing about Practice to Practice. Together, they have developed their own model, aimed at building local relationships and supporting interested urban GPs to work and live in Wangaratta.
Dr Munoz said their local program would showcase the opportunities and dispel the myths about rural work and life.
“We are working with the local community to build a concierge service that will support GPs who come to Wangaratta, including a personalised orientation, information on local schools, accommodation support and a community buddy,” she said.
“Because although a lot of GPs would like to gain experience working in a rural community, we know it can be hard to make the move. For example, they might need additional training or financial support.
“This is not only going to benefit rural practices and the community in Wangaratta. GPs gain valuable skills and experience from practising in a rural community, and while some will choose to stay, others will go back to work in cities, bringing their additional skills and experience with them.”
Dr Clements urged GPs and practices to register their interest for the Practice to Practice pilot program.
“As a rural GP who’s also spearheaded different models of care to ensure access to remote communities, I know they can work. When practices and GPs in different locations team up it’s a win-win for them, and their patients,” said Dr Clements.
“Ultimately, by equipping our membership of over 41,000 GPs across the nation with the tools to connect, support each other and tackle workforce challenges, we can address the health gap between rural and urban Australia. Because everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, no matter their postcode.”
The idea for the Practice to Practice program was formed at the RACGP Rural Summit 2020, which brought together key stakeholders to identify practical solutions to the challenges facing the rural GP workforce. More information on the Summit and a full report is available on the RACGP website.
The RACGP will facilitate the pilot program, providing guidelines and resources for building the relationship between partner practices, recommending training courses for upskilling, and promoting the program among its membership of more than 41,000 GPs in urban, rural and remote Australia.