Rural Doctor Shortage Solution


Western Research Institute Chair, Mark Burdack, has been working with Charles Sturt University and La Trobe University on their innovative proposal to establish a new medical school in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Western Research Institute has undertaken an employment and economic impact assessment for the universities to evaluate the long-term benefits of a Murray Darling Medical School on regional economies.

He recently met with the Member for Calare, Mr Andrew Gee, who is a strong advocate for establishing a local rural medical school with campuses in Orange, Bendigo and Wagga Wagga, to advance discussions on the initiative.


A recent paper released by the Assistant Minister for Rural Health, The Hon David Gillespie, on medical schools found that programs to grow the rural medical workforce have not significantly reduced rural doctor shortages after 20 years of operation.

This is supported by data that shows that rural medical career intentions decline significantly between starting and finishing metropolitan based medical education, and fewer than 8 percent of medical graduates choose rural practice. This is inadequate to replace the large number of rural doctors expected to retire over the next 5 - 10 years, let along to meet the needs of the growing number of Australians living in rural and regional areas.

However, an innovative program in north Queensland is showing promise with more than 50 percent of their graduates moving into rural practice. James Cook University medical school is the only medical program delivered in regional Australia by a regional university. Its model is being adapted around the world in countries struggling with similar rural doctor challenges.

The key factors that differentiate the James Cook University model are:

preferential selection of rural students, who make up 80 per cent of the intake (compared to fewer than 20 percent of all medical students nationally);

a curriculum designed specifically to prepare students for rural practice;

the full medical education and training program offered in regional areas, with a strong focus on long placements in smaller rural and remote areas;

a staff who are all employed in the regions, and who are committed to rural medical workforce development.

New research suggests that a new rural medical school in rural NSW and Victoria would increase the number of graduates choosing to work rurally up to 5-fold, turning around the crisis in rural and remote medical services.

Research also found that a new rural medical school would make a large contribution to employment and economic activity in the regions by ensuring that 100% of the revenues for rural medical education go into the regional economy - a significant improvement on the current situation. Overall, a rural medical school is projected to deliver more than $2 billion in flow-on benefits to regional communities to 2050.

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