With no end in sight to the shortage of doctors in many regional and remote communities, new research has confirmed that providing more medical training in the regions leads directly to more doctors choosing to either stay in the regions or return after completing their training.
Ballarat is home to three rural clinical schools - Deakin University, University of Melbourne and University of Notre Dame - who were among 10 regional clinical schools who took part in national research tracking medical graduates eight years on.
Last year Ballarat had almost 120 medical students studying in the three rural clinical schools - a 50 per cent increase on the number just two years before.
The researchers found students who originally came from a regional or rural background, or any student who had done an extended rural clinical school placement, were more likely than other students to move to or remain in rural practice.
Across Australia, 1321 doctors who graduated in 2011 were followed up in 2019 to see where they were practicing, and whether their location of practice had changed from 2016 to 2019. Of the 1321, 259 had rural backgrounds and 413 had extended rural clinical school experience.
The study authors found that eight years after graduation, those who lived in a regional or rural area before starting their medical training and who had extended rural clinical school experience were more likely than those who grew up in the city and did not have rural clinical school experience to practice in regional or rural communities.
For those working in metropolitan areas five years after graduation, 93 per cent were still there after eight years.
For those in regional and rural practice the proportion who stayed was 26 per cent and 73 per cent.
This study confirms what previous research had suggested - that we can potentially grow the rural medical workforce by increasing the proportion of rural origin students admitted to medical schools. But also, by increasing opportunities for students originating from metropolitan areas to have those extended placement opportunities in (rural) clinical schools- Associate Professor Georgina Luscombe
The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, also showed metropolitan origin graduates with extended rural clinical school experience were more likely than metropolitan origin graduates without that experience to stay in rural practice or move to rural practice.
Data also showed an increase in graduates in rural areas from 7.6 per cent at five years to 9.4 per cent eight years after graduation, possibly because the doctors moved to rural communities after completing training that could not be undertaken there.
They pointed out that while rural GP training was strongly associated with practice in rural areas up to five years after doctors completed their general practice specialty training, particularly among doctors with rural backgrounds, only limited training in other specialties was available in rural areas.
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"This study confirms what previous research had suggested - that we can potentially grow the rural medical workforce by increasing the proportion of rural origin students admitted to medical schools. But also, by increasing opportunities for students originating from metropolitan areas to have those extended placement opportunities in (rural) clinical schools."
Lead author Dr Alexa Seal from The University of Notre Dame Australia said many factors influenced junior doctors about where they trained and worked.
"Factors such as inadequate workforce in rural areas, limited training opportunities, fears of social and professional isolation, and restricted employment opportunities for partners can often influence junior doctors when they are making decisions about where to train and practise," she said.
"Studies such as this and further research is needed to understand the barriers and opportunities that are shaping medical students' decision making, and how we can effectively grow and sustain a rural medical workforce to meet the needs of our communities."
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