Rural Generalist Fellowship program launches

Matt Woodley

1/07/2022 3:36:39 PM

The development has been hailed as a ‘key milestone’ that will deliver more GPs with additional skills to rural and remote communities.

Dr Sarah Lim
Rural generalist Dr Sarah Lim is using her qualification to travel and work in rural towns across Australia. (Image: Supplied)

When rural generalist Dr Sarah Lim spoke to newsGP she was on a train in Brisbane.
The day before she had been in Northern Tasmania, while the week prior Dr Lim had found herself looking out over the sunset from a beach in Broome, Western Australia.
Previously based in Bendigo, Victoria, Dr Lim has since set off on a journey that has seen her criss-cross the country and practise in some of the most remote parts of Australia.
She says having a rural generalist qualification has prepared her for the vastly different challenges she’s encountered in a way that a standard background in general practice would not.
‘I believe being a rural generalist has allowed me to have a more holistic approach to medicine and patients,’ she said.
‘I think a rural generalist has wider scope of practice, which allows provision of well-rounded care to patients in a rural community.
‘Having the perspective of working in both the emergency department/hospital setting and general practice setting is beneficial for myself and the patients. It also makes my work exciting given the variability.’
It is this experience, combined with when she worked on-call 24 hours a day for the regional Victorian town of Castlemaine, that has led Dr Lim to recommend pursuing the RACGP’s new Rural General (RG) Fellowship qualification to anyone who feels able.
Launched on 1 July, the college’s RG Fellowship will replace the Fellowship in Advance Rural General Practice (FARGP) and is designed to deliver more highly trained specialist GPs with additional skills to rural and remote communities.
The redevelopment of the college’s rural generalist training includes strengthened emergency medicine training and additional rural skills training in areas such as anaesthetics, obstetrics and palliative care.
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements says the RG Fellowship is a ‘key milestone’ in efforts to address GP workforce shortages in rural and remote Australia.
‘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 into the future,’ he said.
The RACGP has been working with the Rural Health Commissioner and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine [ACRRM] to have rural generalist medicine formally recognised as a specialised field of practice.
‘This change will remove barriers to training, help to ensure GPs with rural generalist qualifications are appropriately valued and remunerated, and make it a more attractive career choice.’
Dr Clements says the RG Fellowship is designed to equip GPs with additional skills that rural communities need.
‘As a rural GP myself, I know all too well what entices people to rural general practice,’ he said.
‘Local GPs are an integral part of rural communities across Australia. Rural communities rely on their GP for the majority of their health and wellbeing needs, particularly when other specialist health services or hospital care are far away.
‘This makes rural and remote general practice both challenging and highly rewarding. What I find most rewarding is the doctor–patient relationship and seeing the positive changes, such as the patient who successfully quits smoking, or takes the steps needed to manage their chronic condition.’
One of the services Dr Lim offered while working as a rural generalist in country Victoria was antenatal care, which she said some patients would travel hundreds of kilometres to access.
‘I found that really popular because not everyone wants to go to the hospital to wait hours when they can just have an appointment with me,’ she said.
‘It worked well during COVID, because visitors have not been allowed [at hospitals]. So dads have not been allowed to come into listen to their baby’s heart, whereas they can do it easily in my clinic – that made a lot of dads really happy.
‘I also did a lot of contraception work in my clinic and people would drive 2–4 hours just to get care that’s not available elsewhere.’

A picture of the sunset in Broome taken by Dr Sarah Lim during her travels. (Image: Supplied)
According to the RACGP, the training requirements for the RG Fellowship are similar to the FARGP, with the core emergency medicine training and additional rural skills training updated to align with the National Rural Generalist Pathway.
To ease the transition to the RG Fellowship, these curricula have been made available to FARGP GPs in training and practising GPs from the beginning of 2022. Current GPs in training completing the FARGP are able to transition to the RG Fellowship or can choose to complete the FARGP.
Dr Clements says he would ‘encourage anyone’ thinking of a career in general practice to consider practising rurally and gaining RG Fellowship.
‘It’s a career with limitless opportunities. You can take it wherever you want to go, not only in terms of where you choose to work but what medicine you practice, with so much variety and opportunities to specialise,’ he said.
‘I also want to stress that Australia needs both GPs with extended rural generalist skills, as well as rural GPs working to their full scope in community general practice, delivering holistic care to patients with a focus on preventive care and chronic disease management.
‘Rural generalists and rural GPs often work together and have complementary skills that benefit rural communities.
‘The RACGP trains all GPs to be rural ready, so they can work anywhere in Australia. So, if you’re considering a career in general practice, take a look at our training choices.’
Junior doctors can apply to undertake the RG Fellowship through the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program, with the RACGP’s next intake for applications to open from 8 August.
Practising GPs with the FRACGP and significant rural general practice experience and procedural or non-procedural skills can also apply to obtain the Fellowship via recognition of prior learning and experience.
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