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Opinion

Is it time for a new approach to Australia’s GP shortage?


Sarah Bresnehan


11/08/2023 3:13:44 PM

Generating early positive impressions of general practice would help increase the number of medical students becoming GPs, writes Sarah Bresnehan.

Medical student with GP.
The General Practice Students Network is calling on policymakers to invest in the quality of medical school general practice placements and to support more peer-to-peer initiatives.

The latest Medical Schools Outcome Database National Data Report, released earlier this week, produced a number of interesting results.
 
Pleasing outcomes – such as an increase in the number of students interested in rural medicine – show that the efforts of medical schools and interest groups to expose medical students to rural practice is paying off in some ways.
 
However, other findings are frustrating to medical students, like myself, who are looking to enter general practice in a few years’ time.
 
Medical students are aware of the current uncertainty within general practice and are not immune to the media coverage it has been attracting. Therefore, while disappointing, it is not surprising to see a small drop in final year medical students preferencing general practice as their specialty of choice.
 
But how do you start reversing this declining trend? How do you increase the profile and attractiveness of general practice to the future medical workforce?
 
The answer is to listen to future GPs, to the students coming up through the pipeline. We know and see the barriers and have effective solutions, so start investing in the most valuable resource within general practice – its future practitioners.
 
The General Practice Students Network (GPSN) is a national network of 4000-plus aspiring students who also want to become GPs, and we continue to tell policymakers what needs to be invested in, but I question whether our voices are being heard.
 
GPSN members continually tell us the importance of quality early exposure to general practice at the beginning of their journey, and this work needs to be done before hospital training. They want to connect with general practice, understand it, and be supported in professional peer exchange with existing GPs early on in their medical school experience.
 
It is why in early 2023, we called on policymakers to invest in the quality of medical school general practice placements and to support more peer-to-peer initiatives.
 
We all know that early positive impressions of general practice will go a long way towards increasing the number of medical students becoming GPs. GPSN members want an opportunity to get to know general practice and GPs early in their first few years of training.
 
Our current GPSN national network is critical to the development of future GPs and encouraging medical students to apply for general practice training. Professor Richard Murray, the Dean of Medicine and Dentistry at James Cook University, recently said that general practices have a tougher time compared with teaching hospitals.
 
GPSN agrees and believes medical schools need to be more hands on and connected with their GP partners when it comes to the general practice placement experience. This means a change in how medical schools, general practice, and students are supported.
 
While general practice is at a crossroads, we understand that GPSN has a role to play in strengthening access to primary care in Australia and working with our sector peak partners to uplift the specialty. GPSN wants to play a role, and we want to challenge the preconceptions of medical students about the speciality of general practice.
 
But the perspectives of medical students must be listened to, otherwise policymakers will continue to invest in initiatives that miss the mark.
 
We are excited about our next steps and initiatives to bolster our future GP workforce. Is it not time to try a new approach to addressing Australia’s GP shortage?
 
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Dr Brendan Sean Chaston   15/08/2023 8:58:08 PM

Hi Sarah,

I think you’re right. The future of general practice should be shaped by future general practitioners. The current nature of general practice is obviously not attractive to medical graduates.

Unfortunately many in the community question the relevance of general practice. Even tonight my own teenagers questioned why gp work could not be performed by chemists and nurses. Obviously they had been talking about this at school and this is the consensus of their peers.

I believe the current cohort of Gp’s (myself included) are too invested in want general practice currently is to accept the real change that needs to occur to attract future medical graduates and convince the community of it relevance.