Rural training helps medical specialists go bush

Female doctor in rural setting. | Newsreel
Medical specialists are more likely to set up practice in rural areas if exposed to training in a country setting. | Photo: Wave Break Media.

Medical specialist who train in rural areas are three times more likely to choose to work in country areas.

New research led by the University of Notre Dame Australia found specialists, like psychiatrists or pediatricians, who did most of their training in the city, were unlikely to set up practices in the bush.

Lead author and researcher from Notre Dame’s Wagga Wagga Clinical School, Dr Alexa Seal, said the study of 1220 medicine graduates from nine Australian universities had found about 30 percent of general practitioners, a specialty that gave doctors the opportunity to do most of their training in rural areas, were practicing in the country 10 years into their careers.

“But only 10 percent of other medical specialists, such as psychiatrists or pediatricians, and 15 percent of surgical specialists ended up in non-metropolitan areas a decade after graduation,” Dr Seal said.

“These specialists do most of their training in the city.”

Dr Seal said the findings come amid a critical shortage of doctors in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia, with both general practitioners and other medical specialists in short supply.

“This study reinforces the impact of rural training pathways on a doctor’s longer-term work location,” she said.

“Specialist training needs to be expanded to support more rural training opportunities for doctors outside general practice because we know that rural exposure is associated with the likelihood of living rurally in the future.”

Dr Seal said research continued to show rural Australians had higher rates of hospitalisations, death and injury, and poorer access to primary health care than people living in major cities.

“There are seven times fewer specialists in remote areas than in metropolitan areas, leaving many patients with no choice but to travel extensively – often with significant financial and familial burden – to attend appointments.”

She said the research built on two earlier studies of the same cohort of medical graduates from the class of 2011 – one that looked at their practice location after five years and another after eight.

“It found the number of specialists working in regional, rural or remote areas increased from 15 percent at five years after graduation, to 19 percent at 10 years.

“This is mostly attributed to non-GP specialists moving to the country after finishing their training in the city.”