James Cook University researchers have found training medical students in regional hospitals is a crucial part of encouraging them to follow a career outside major cities.
Dr Torres Woolley, a Senior Lecturer at JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry, led a study that surveyed medical students at JCU about where they intended to work after graduation.
“There is a significant imbalance in the number of doctors working in the regions as compared to the number working in major cities, so JCU’s medical school was specifically founded in 2000 to supply a medical workforce to the regions. With this study we wanted to see exactly how our model was working,” said Dr Woolley.
The team surveyed more than 200 medical students in their final years of study for the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree.
They found that new doctors who planned to work in northern Australian hospitals had already undertaken placements in the hospitals as part of their undergraduate training. They also tended to come from northern Australia and had an interest in rural medicine or Indigenous health.
The students believed interns had better learning experiences in regional teaching hospitals.
“Students told us staff in regional hospitals have a reputation for taking greater interest in teaching students, there is a better ratio of supervising staff to students and the hospitals themselves are less hierarchical. There is also a larger number of challenging clinical presentations, more autonomy and variety of work,” said Dr Woolley.
“What was especially encouraging is that we found that providing students with experience in regional healthcare significantly increased nearly all students’ intentions to pursue a rural career. Not just those who had entered medical school with plans for a career in rural medicine,” said Dr Woolley.
When the students were originally from southern states (predominantly from capital cities) JCU saw a 40% increase between entry and graduation in the intention to work rurally sometime in their career.
He said the next step was to provide more postgraduate pathways and specialist training in regional areas so young doctors could continue their development.
“We know that the more you can train medical and allied health professionals in rural areas, the more likely they will continue to live in those areas,” said Dr Woolley.
JCU is working closely with the region’s public and private hospital and health services as a partner of the Northern Queensland Regional Training Hubs collaborative.
This collaborative partnership is supporting the continued development of postgraduate pathways and specialist training opportunities across the region to enable junior doctors to specialise in the north, which in turn builds a sustainable medical workforce for regional, rural and remote Queensland.