More evidence to support rural clinical placements

Matt Woodley

19/04/2022 4:36:03 PM

Rural medical graduates and those who spend extended time practising regionally are more likely to become country doctors, new research shows.

Group of junior doctors
Medical graduates who spent an extended time in a rural clinical placement are more likely to continue practising outside of major cities, new research indicates.

A recently released study has reinforced the importance of increasing opportunity for rural Australians to become doctors, in an effort to help rectify an increasingly dire workforce situation.
Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the study looked at graduate outcomes for medical students eight years on and found those from a rural background are more likely to eventually become country doctors.
The same research also highlighted the importance of exposing metro-based graduates to rural clinical practice, as it found those who spent an extended time in a rural clinical placement were also more likely to practise outside of major cities.
Senior author Associate Professor Georgina Luscombe says the collaborative study – which was conducted by the rural clinical schools of 11 different Australian universities – confirms what existing research has already suggested.
‘[The findings indicate] we can potentially grow the rural medical workforce by increasing the proportion of rural origin students admitted to medical schools,’ she said.
‘But also, by increasing opportunities for students originating from metropolitan areas to have those extended placement opportunities in clinical schools in places like Dubbo, Orange and Broome.’
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements has also spoken about the importance of rural placements, previously telling newsGP that his own exposure to regional Australia as a medical student had provided a ‘wide variety of very rich rural experiences’.
‘The thing that’s attracted me and kept me doing rural and regional medicine is the connection to community,’ he said.
‘I’ve certainly really gained a lot professionally and personally by being connected to the rural towns that I’ve worked in.’
Dr Clements’ anecdotal experience appears to have been supported by the study, which found that 73% of rural students had stayed in rural areas eight years after graduation.
Another key finding was the overall increase in the proportion of 2011 graduates practising in rural areas, from 7.6% at five years to 9.4% eight years after graduation.
The authors wrote that this suggests some graduates who trained in metropolitan or regional areas then moved to rural communities after completing training that could not be undertaken there – reinforcing the importance of rural clinical schools, training hubs and the rural generalist training.
And while previous studies have also tracked the impact of rural placements on regional workforce numbers, lead author Dr Alexa Seal said it is important to follow graduates over time to try to identify whether their early intentions about where they would like to practise were later realised.
‘Factors such as inadequate levels of workforce in rural areas, limited training opportunities, fears of social and professional isolation, and restricted employment opportunities for partners can often influence junior doctors when they are making decisions about where to train and practise,’ she said.
‘Studies such as this and further research is needed to understand the barriers and opportunities that are shaping medical students’ decision making, and how we can effectively grow and sustain a rural medical workforce to meet the needs of our communities.’
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