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24 February 2023

RACGP: Exposure to rural and regional communities matters

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has called on governments to facilitate more regional and rural placements for medical school students to encourage future doctors to live and work outside of major cities.

It comes following reports of a study looking at more than 2,000 University of Queensland medical students between 2011 and 2021. All of the University’s student must do a six-week placement in a smaller rural community in their third year. The study found:

·    106 students chose to extend their rural placement beyond the initial six-week placement

·    the students who also did two years of training in regional areas were seven times more likely to choose to work in regional Australia, compared to their colleagues who did neither.  

The study also found that even those who just did the 12-week placement were three times more likely to work outside the major cities. 

RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements urged the nation’s leaders to heed the study’s results.

“This study backs what the Royal Australian College of GPs has been saying for many years,” he said.

"As professor of rural and remote medicine Bruce Chater notes – two thirds of students who undertake the 12-week placement and two years of training in regional Australia end up in a regional centre and that is just what we want. We must do more to fix the maldistribution of GPs in Australia that leaves many communities outside of major cities without adequate access to general practice care. A key to solving this problem is encouraging and supporting future doctors to live and work in regional or rural areas and exposing them to rural general practice early on makes a real difference.

“There is evidence that students who originally come from rural areas have a high return rate, especially if they are exposed to rural placements during their study at university. However, it’s also important to note that the same applies for other students who work in a rural placement and report a positive experience. If students are placed in a nurturing, supportive training practice environment and embraced by the community - they will be inclined to return.

“We know that the longer a student spends training within a city hospital, the more anchored they become to the idea of a big city job. You can’t be what you can’t see, and unless universities invest in rural placements, like the University of Queensland has, then we are never going to break the magnetic binding that city hospitals seem to hold over our future workforce.

“So, I encourage all governments to look carefully at the results of this study and the great work being done by the University of Queensland. Let’s put in place similar initiatives so that we can boost rural general practice care and ensure no patients are left behind.”

The RACGP Rural Chair urged all future doctors to consider a career outside of a major city.

“As the largest representative body for rural GPs, the RACGP is committed to driving the changes needed to ensure sustainable general practice care in every community,” he said.

“Ask any GP outside of a major city and they will tell you that as a rural or regional GP you are an integral and valued member of your community. Your skill set will soar early in your career because rural communities rely on their GP for the majority of their health and wellbeing needs, particularly when other specialist health services or hospital care is a long drive away.

“What many rural and regional GPs find most rewarding is the doctor-patient relationship and seeing so many positive changes. So, for example, the patient who manages to quit smoking, or takes the steps needed to manage their chronic condition like diabetes or asthma. I encourage anyone thinking of a career in general practice to consider going rural, it could be the best decision you ever make.”


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