On 9 January, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a position statement “Rural Workforce Initiatives”, – a five-point plan to encourage more doctors to work in rural and remote locations, and improve patient access to care.

The plan proposes initiatives in education and training, rural generalist pathways, work environments, support for doctors and their families, and financial incentives.

“About seven million Australians live in regional, rural, and remote areas, and they often have more difficulty accessing health services than their city cousins,” AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, said.

“They often have to travel long distances for care, and rural hospital closures and downgrades are seriously affecting the future delivery of health care in rural areas. For example, more than 50 per cent of small rural maternity units have been closed in the past two decades.”

Dr Gannon is thankful for the 40 percent of the rural workforce currently made up of international medical graduates but cautions against heavy reliance on an external workforce and wants to build a more sustainable system.

As reported in the Townsville Bulletin, James Cook University Associate Professor Peter Johnson said that this view has been the JCU’s “priority and has been for a number of years”. He said in the 2015 to 2016 JCU medicine graduate survey, 84 per cent of students said they intended to practise medicine outside of capital cities, compared to the national average of 16 per cent.

The AMA recommends five areas where policy changes must focus:

  • Encourage students from rural areas to enrol in medical school
  • Provide a training pathway to ensure doctors are trained to work in rural areas
  • Provide support and flexible work arrangements
  • Provide family support for spouse’s employment and children’s education, subsidies for housing and tax relief
  • Provide financial incentives to ensure competitive remuneration

To read more about the AMA’s proposal, see the following sources: