LOCAL health services have welcomed an Australian Medical Association initiative to encourage more medical students to work in rural areas.
The AMA announced on Tuesday a campaign that, if implemented, would see at least one third of all new medical students having rural backgrounds, as well as students being required to complete at least one year of training in rural areas.
The Rural Workforce Initiatives plan outlines five key areas where government and other stakeholders need focus their policy efforts - 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, 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.
"Australia does not need more medical schools or more medical school places. Workforce projections suggest that Australia is heading for an oversupply of doctors. Targeted initiatives to increase the size of the rural medical, nursing, and allied health workforce are what is required."
Although there has been an increase in the number of medical graduates in recent years, more than three-quarters of these people live in capital cities, with internationally-trained medical graduates making up more than 40 per cent of the rural medical workforce.
Health services in Cohuna and Kerang are struggling to recruit new general practitioners, with Kerang District Health - which also operates Kerang Medical Clinic - advertising for more than a year for a general practitioner obstetrician.
Cohuna District Hospital is also attempting to recruit a general practitioner obstetrician to support Dr Peter Barker, who was at the centre of last November's community protest regarding the short-lived decision to bypass maternity services.
Northern District Community Health – which operates the Kerang-based Fitzroy Street Medical Clinic – has not received one application for its general practitioner vacancies, with husband and wife, Dr Lindsay Sherriff and Dr Dianne Sherriff to return to service in the coming weeks to help cover the void left by the retirement of former colleague, Dr Graeme Wood, as well as two other practitioners.
"Until something happens that makes practising in country Victoria attractive, the Federal Government cannot give up on the visa program for overseas doctors," NDCH chief executive officer, Mandy Hutchinson said.
"There have been plenty of discussions with the Rotary Club of Kerang and the town's progress association, but all we need is someone to come up here and give us a try."