Research underlines the importance of rural placements

Matt Woodley

24/02/2023 4:51:45 PM

Medical students who complete a 12-week rural training program are more likely to work as doctors in similar communities, a study has shown.

GP speaking to medical student
Students who combined a 12-week placement with a two-year training program were around seven times more likely to work in a small rural or remote location.

Placing medical students in rural and remote training programs makes them more likely to subsequently work as regional doctors, new University of Queensland (UQ) research has found.
The study, conducted by researchers at UQ’s Rural Clinical School (UQRCS) and Mayne Academy of Rural and Remote Medicine, is based on career outcomes data from 2806 medical students who graduated between 2012–21.
They tracked the outcomes of those who completed six weeks of training in a rural or remote area, versus those who participated in a 12-week program or combined a 12-week placement with a 1–2-year training program in a larger regional centre.

‘The findings show students who participated in a 12-week placement in a small rural town were around three times more likely to work in a similar-sized community after graduating,’ Head of the Mayne Academy of Rural and Remote Medicine, Professor Bruce Chater said.

‘Those who combined a 12-week placement with a two-year training program were around seven times more likely to work in a small rural or remote location.’

With workforce maldistribution an increasingly fraught issue, RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements responded to the findings by calling on governments to facilitate more regional and rural placements.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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 [which] 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.’
The study’s lead author, UQRCS Head of Regional Training Hubs Research Associate Professor Matthew McGrail, said it points to a simple way to build the regional medical workforce.

‘The 12-week extended placement program positively influenced workforce outcomes,’ he said.

‘This was irrespective of whether the students had grown up in a rural location or not.

‘Using actual workforce outcomes that have been measured up to 10 years post-graduation gives certainty that working in a rural or remote area is a career choice, not just an intention.

‘The finding helps support placements as an integral part of future planning for medical workforces in rural and remote communities.’
The research adds to existing evidence that shows doctors who have a regional background, or who train in rural and remote areas, are more likely to enjoy their training and subsequently return once their studies are completed.
Associate Professor Clements has urged the nation’s leaders and universities to heed the study’s results.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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 also encouraged 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 skillset 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.
‘Anyone thinking of a career in general practice [should] consider going rural, it could be the best decision you ever make.’
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Dr Risto Cvetkovic   28/02/2023 9:50:07 AM

....or, make it compulsory for all doctors who graduate in Australia to complete a 2 year placement working in a (rural) GP clinic (as a non-VR GP), and make it a requirement for those wishing to apply for a specialty training. There... rural GP shortage solved. It's a simple solution... and it didn't cost much to Federal and state Govts, or RACGP - I am providing this solution for free