RACGP: Pilot training program to boost rural GPs shows early success

Royal Australian College of GPs

The Royal Australia College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says a pilot program enabling GP registrars to work in rural and remote communities could be a key tool to boost rural GP numbers.

Launched in August 2022 and funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care, the pilot has been designed to place GP registrars in rural and remote locations where there is no on-site supervisor, and registrars are instead supported by remote supervisors. The pilot will test and refine the RACGP remote supervision guidelines, as part of the Australian General Practice Training program.

The RACGP entered a milestone contract with the Department of Health to deliver GP training in Australia from 1st February 2023.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said the new training pilot provides hope to improve GP access nationally.

“Many rural and remote communities have limited or no onsite supervisor available or limited or intermittent medical services. Placing registrars in these areas is essential, especially when people would otherwise have to drive for hours just to see a doctor,” she said.

“All Australians need access to high-quality GP care, regardless of their postcode. The RACGP is looking to strengthen the future of general practice and get more GPs working and living in the communities that need them most by providing nationally consistent, high-quality supervision and training Australia-wide.”

The pilot has enabled two registrars to work in locations which would not have been able to host a registrar otherwise, including Norfolk Island and the rural NSW town of Walgett at an Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS). In these two isolated locations, each registrar is supported by an offsite supervisor, using phone and videoconferencing to provide teaching and real time assistance when needed.

In addition to increasing the number of GPs and improving healthcare in rural and remote Australia, remote supervision gives registrars more flexibility to work in different communities, including those which are more remote and isolated.

In Norfolk Island and Walgett AMS, the pilot’s registrars have begun making a positive impact. Remote GP supervisor, Dr Debbie Hough, said the training program has exciting potential.

“It is a pleasure to be involved in mentoring passionate, young GPs to work in areas where a sustainable medical workforce has previously been difficult. Remote supervision may enable registrars to be exposed to amazing rural communities and increase the likelihood that they may choose to settle long-term,” she said.

Remote GP registrar, Dr Hopcroft, currently training in Norfolk Island, said he would recommend remote supervision.

“Remote supervision has been great. My supervisor is an experienced rural generalist, and when he is off-site, we have had valuable catchups via Zoom. The other GPs on-site are excellent too, and I have engaged them for advice when needed,” he said.

RACGP Senior Medical Advisor Associate Professor Jill Benson, said the pilot was a positive step for both the communities and the registrar’s development.

“We believe that remote supervision is as effective as on-site supervision, and that it is as good for the registrar as it is for the towns. Remote supervision enables a supported and safe training term in a location that would not normally be available for the registrar, and it provides more opportunities for supervisor engagement than a registrar would normally receive late in their training period.”

RACGP Senior Medical Advisor Dr Tim Linton said that initial results have been promising, and building on the program is key to the pilot’s future success.

“A key part of the remote supervision pilots is the evaluation. We are evaluating the pilots to assess the guidelines and associated processes to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement, prior to wider implementation. Formative evaluation is already underway, and we have conducted the first round of interviews with each of the participants to gather data,” he said.

The RACGP is planning to roll out the program more widely and identify a further 10 to 20 remote communities that have had difficulty attracting or retaining a GP that could be suitable for remote registrar training.

Expressions of interest from registrars and supervisors who wish to join this program, and the accreditation process for interested practices, will open after the transition to college-led training on February 1, 2023. ~

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