Programs run by the ANU for medical students aim not only to encourage more students to take up careers in rural areas but also to dispel some of the myths around working in a country practice.
A recent visit by the Rural Clinical School (RCS) of the ANU Medical School (ANUMS), saw 70 medical students in the Bega Valley for a week, undergoing further training with the mentorship of local GPs and specialist doctors.
The Bega Valley Medical Practice is an accredited teaching practice and Dr Duncan MacKinnon was involved in overseeing the free blood pressure checks provided for the community at Twyford Hall on Thursday, October 20.
The group were kept busy with activities working from 6.30am to 8.30pm and heard from Dr Geoff Thomas of Sapphire Clinic, Merimbula who spoke about aged care.
"The hope is they will return as rural GPs or specialists," Dr MacKinnon said.
"We aim to open students' eyes to have a rewarding and professionally challenging future in country practice. Specialising as a GP can be hard because you have to be good at everything.
"The ANU has a focus on rural medicine and they do encourage people to think about a career in rural practice. The evidence is if you train doctors rurally there is a much greater return rate to a rural setting," Dr MacKinnon said.
He said there was a perception that the only doctors who worked in the country were those who couldn't get a job in the city.
"This opportunity challenges that perception and students were happy to say their eyes had been opened by the visit and they realised you could practise gold standard medicine in a rural area," Dr MacKinnon said.
Professor Amanda Barnard is head of the Rural Clinical School at the ANU and said there were two strong predictors of students returning to rural practice.
"Spending significant time during both a medical degree and junior doctor training time is a strong predictor. The second is students from a rural background. Around 30 per cent of ANUMS students have a rural background," Professor Barnard said.
"These students spend their year in either Bega Valley, Cooma, Goulburn, Young or Cowra. The whole point of the program is to give every student a rural experience."
Professor Barnard was at the government's recent GP Crisis Summit and agrees the situation is "a real crisis" but she is keen to stress the scope of practice and lifestyle available in rural areas.
Some ex-students are currently working at Bega's South East Regional Hospital and in the community, including specialists, junior doctors and VMOs (GP obstetricians ) at the hospital as well as GPs in the community.
"We don't skirt over the challenges but we try to bust the myths and provide role models who can help open students' eyes. They are not isolated and can keep up with research and their professional education," Professor Barnard said.
The RCS and the SE NSW Regional Training Hub is funded by the Federal Government to encourage medical students to take up careers in rural practice, and strengthen the health workforce in rural communities across Australia.
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