The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is working to boost specialist GP numbers in rural Australia.
The RACGP is urging doctors who don’t yet have specialist qualifications to join its Practice Experience Program (PEP), as an alternative to Australian General Practice Training (AGPT), and develop a career in rural Australia.
The call is timely – from January 2022, policy changes will make it compulsory for any doctor wanting to sit the exams to become a specialist GP to be on an approved training pathway, such as PEP.
The change will bring general practice in line with other medical specialties. A newsGP poll of over 1000 GPs found the majority are supportive of the policy change at 54%.
PEP is a flexible online and work-based education program available to all doctors working in rural and remote communities. Activities are largely practice-based and enable doctors to remain working in their practice and community, while expanding their skills in specialist general practice.
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said the drive to boost specialist GPs in rural Australia was needed more than ever.
“The shortage of specialist GPs in rural and remote Australia is dire, and the pandemic and restrictions on travel have made matters worse,” he said.
“As the peak body for GPs in every corner of the country, increasing the number of highly trained GPs in rural Australia is the RACGP’s top priority.
“This is a great opportunity for doctors who want to achieve Fellowship as a specialist GP in Australia, including overseas trained doctors.
“We know overseas trained doctors are attracted to PEP – a survey of participants in June found the most common location of a primary medical degree among participants was India at 11.0%, followed by Australia at 9.1% and Sri Lanka at 8.7%.
“Joining PEP will put these doctors on the path to Fellowship, building their skills and knowledge, and furthering their career in rural and remote Australia, while accessing A1 Medicare rebates.
“It’s also great for rural and remote communities. The research shows that doctors who train in rural Australia are more likely to remain working and living there because they get the opportunity to see the benefits for themselves.
“A survey of our PEP participants in June this year found the overwhelming majority, 88%, want to remain working in rural or remote Australia.
“As a rural GP myself, I know the rich rewards of a rural career and lifestyle. Rural and remote communities often rely on their local GP because there are no other local health services, so there’s great variety to our work and practice,” Dr Clements said.
“Rural GPs also tend to have stronger and longer relationships with our patients. And this is what tends to attract medical students to general practice in the first place – it’s the only medical speciality where you get to provide holistic care to someone throughout their life, not only helping them when they’re sick, but providing preventative care to keep them well.”
“My message to doctors who want to achieve Fellowship as a specialist GP and haven’t yet joined a training program is simple: don’t wait, PEP is a great option and if you join now, you’ll be ahead of the changes coming in January.”
Participants in the RACGP’s PEP enjoy access to full A1 Medicare rebates, support and mentoring from an experienced network of medical educators, and an optional exam preparation course delivered by experienced RACGP examiners in the last term.
Applications for the next intake of the RACGP’s PEP-Standard program close on 25 October 2021.