School could be the cure

June 13, 2017

La Trobe University students Troy Gowty, Laura Cripps and Fazela Abbasi at an information stall about the proposed Murray-Darling Medical School.

No matter where you go across regional Australia, the lack of doctors is always a problem.

Finding doctors and keeping them, in regional areas has long been a headache for managers at hospitals and doctors clinics in small towns and larger regional centres.

While it can be easy for people in larger cities to book a doctor’s appointment on the day, in smaller towns people often have to wait days to get a quick appointment.

Part of the problem is that with almost all of our medical schools based in our capital cities, it can be difficult to encourage graduates to ‘‘go rural’’ after university.

For the past few years, La Trobe University and Charles Sturt University have been pushing for a dedicated regionally-based medical school to address this problem.

The universities are heavy hitters in regional education across NSW and Victoria, with Charles Sturt having campuses in Wagga Wagga, Orange, Goulburn and Dubbo, and La Trobe having campuses in Bendigo, Mildura and here in Shepparton.

The proposed Murray-Darling Medical School would be a joint venture of both universities and educate medical students at Orange and Wagga Wagga in NSW and Bendigo in Victoria.

If the school gets the go ahead, it is proposed 80 per cent of its places would be kept for budding doctors from rural and regional backgrounds.

The reasoning is while only 10 per cent of medical students that study in metropolitan areas go on to practice in regional areas, graduates from the Murray-Darling Medical School are estimated to be four times more likely to stay in the regions once they graduate.

The plan is not without its critics, with the Australian Medical Students’ Association arguing a new medical school would only make it harder to attract doctors to regional Australia.

The AMSA argues the real problem is a rapid increase in medical graduates (graduate numbers have almost doubled in 10 years) at a time when many graduates are struggling to get internships once they graduate.

Instead, it argues more funding should be directed to increasing opportunities in regional Australia, including internships and training.

The Murray-Darling Medical School is just a proposal and, despite cautious endorsement from a number of politicians, it does not have the funding to get started.

The people behind the MDMS proposal were hopeful a re-elected Federal Government would put funding behind the school, but were disappointed when nothing was announced.

Now they are taking the fight to the treasurer, with a petition circulating to try and urge the government to get the idea off the ground.

If the idea ever does become reality, it could be very beneficial.

But if a new school is successful, the cure for Australia’s rural doctor shortage should be taken with a grain of salt.

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