Returning to general practice following an extended absence

Amanda Lyons

3/04/2018 2:38:57 PM

The RACGP has established a new pilot program to offer GPs assistance when going back to work following a prolonged absence.

The RACGP pilot is designed to assist GPs with working through the necessary regulations and requirements when returning to work.
The RACGP pilot is designed to assist GPs with working through the necessary regulations and requirements when returning to work.

There are many reasons a doctor may temporarily leave practice, from overseas travel to illness to starting a family. GPs who want to return to work must address the regulatory requirements of the Medical Board of Australia (the Medical Board) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) before they are able to find a suitable practice.
‘You might think that in a month or two, “I’ll be right, I’ll be back at work”. But it may not work that way once you actually get into the process,’ Dr George Zaharias, GP and the RACGP’s Senior Medical Advisor, Education Progression, told newsGP.
‘You may find that all these delays happen, and suddenly it’s the end of the year and you’re not back at work yet.’
Doctors who have been away from practice in Australia between one to three years might need to fulfil their 12 months of Quality Improvement and Continuing Professional Development (QI&CPD) requirements, while those who have been away longer than three years must put together a learning plan for AHPRA and undergo supervision when they return to practice.
‘It comes back to how many skills they need to brush up on, but then also how the practice of medicine might have changed in the time they were away,’ Dr Zaharias said.
‘Also, are they going back to the same style or type of practice they had before? Or a slightly different area with different demographics, where they might have to brush up on different skills?’
Each returning doctor will have different needs depending on length of time away and its reasons.
‘AHPRA will consider things like whether you have actually been practising medicine while you’ve been away, such as in the case of doctors who have been working overseas,’ Dr Zaharias said. ‘If you have been practising, you’re less likely to be rusty; you might just need to upskill in terms of your knowledge, because our guidelines for practising might be a little bit different to where you were practising.
‘For example, if you were doing missionary work in remote areas, then coming into an urban practice – bit of a difference there. But if you were working in Europe or England doing general practice, that would be very similar to the way we would practice here, but with slightly different guidelines. So they’re the kinds of things that you’ve got to consider.’ 
To help GPs going through the potentially arduous process of returning to work, the RACGP has established the ‘Helping doctors’ re-entry to practice’ pilot program.
‘The whole idea is to assist GPs with working through the regulations and requirements,’ Dr Zaharias said. ‘The aim is to try and get them back into practice as quickly as we can, because sometimes these processes can be very long – find a practice, fill in the forms for AHPRA, prepare a plan that is right for the GP.’
As part of the pilot, Primary Health Care Limited has offered placements within its national network of practices for returning doctors who are having trouble finding a suitable workplace.
‘Primary Health Care has agreed that if someone is having difficulty finding a practice, it would be happy to take them and provide the support they need, including supervision,’ Dr Zaharias said.
‘They could also work with the particular GP’s individual learning plan and tailor some education around that, as well.’  
The pilot phase of the project will continue over the next 12 months, as Dr Zaharias gathers information from GP enquiries to the RACGP about returning to work to help inform and design the structure of the program.
Dr Zaharias has acknowledged that whatever the outcome of the pilot, the timeline for return to work will still be decided on an individual basis by each practitioner.
‘While they have to meet the requirements, GPs also have to feel, “I’m all right now”,’ he said. ‘It’s not just about fulfilling the requirements; it’s about feeling good about returning to work.’

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