Giving rural students a pathway in to medicine in the hopes of retaining them in regional health services after graduation seems to be paying off.
A new Deakin University study in to the outcomes of their medical students has shown that even if rural students enter the postgraduate medical course with slightly lower grades than their metropolitan city peers, their academic results are just as high.
Medical schools offer application bonuses on grade scores from an undergraduate degree, and on the Graduate Medical School Admission Test for students from regional and rural areas.
An interview is also a key part of the application process.
"We really need more rural doctors, and to do that we have to get more people from a rural background into medicine," said Deakin Medical School senior lecturer and report co-author Dr Karen D'Souza.
"But the selection processes to medical school are highly competitive, with applications far exceeding the number of places available, potentially disadvantaging rural applicants."
"These students can often be the first in their family to go to university. They may have to live out of home and work while completing their first degree. So there are a number of factors that could contribute to that slightly lower grade point average. They're also much more likely to be at financial disadvantage."
Ballarat is home to more than 80 medical students this year - 42 from Deakin University and 24 from the University of Melbourne studying at Ballarat Health Services, and 16 Notre Dame students at St John of God hospital.
Deakin University has rural clinical schools in Warrnambool, Ballarat and Geelong, while the University of Melbourne has rural clinical schools in Shepparton, Bendigo, Wangaratta and Ballarat.
They are working and living in those communities, and that exposure in a meaningful way means they are more likely to go on to be rural or regional doctors.Dr Karen D'Souza
Research published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health looked at almost 150 of Deakin's medical graduates, including a quarter from rural backgrounds, and found that once students get in to medicine, the rural students do just as well as those from the city.
"We really don't want to be missing any of those students with a passion for regional health because their GPA is slightly lower," she said. "We know once they get in they're absolutely fine."
Dr D'Souza said it was vital that rural students had access to medical programs because they were more likely to stay in rural healthcare after graduation.
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