Addressing Doctor Shortages with a New Medical School

A proposal to alleviate doctor shortages in regional Victoria and NSW through the establishment of a new medical school is not supported by existing doctors and medical students. The proposed Murray Darling Medical School would bring the total number of medical schools in Australia to 22.

The new medical school would be a rurally focused school with campuses across the Murray Darling region where a shortage of medical professionals currently impact on health care for those living in the area. Studies show that it can take double the amount of time for someone living rurally to see their preferred GP compared to a city dweller. The medical school aims to address doctor shortages through a rural specific curriculum, providing placements for students from regional areas, with medical school graduates then encouraged to remain local and practice locally. Currently only around one in graduates from metropolitan medical schools go on to practice in regional or rural areas. The universities behind the Murray Darling Medical School – Charles Sturt University and La Trobe University – claim around half of the doctors trained through the school will stay local, and be four times more likely to work in rural and regional areas. They also state that that by increasing the supply and availability of doctors the health outcomes of regional communities will be improved. Existing initiatives to encourage medical graduates to practice in rural and remote areas are not delivering the numbers required and Australia continues to rely on international medical graduates to fill the job shortage.

The Murray Darling Medical School has been met with support from the local community but opponents say the medical school doesn’t address the real problem behind doctor shortages in rural and regional areas which is the location and number of training places for specialties. The Australian Medical Students Association states that students interested in a specialty would be forced into cities for training. Compounding the issue is that this training takes places at a time when graduates are seeking to set down roots, perhaps get married and buy property, which would be more likely to happen in the city close to their training centre rather than the regional and rural areas where they may have grown up.
General practitioner with stethoscope around neck

The Australian Medical Students Association argues the key is to develop an appropriate number of specialist training positions, and increase the number of training positions in rural and regional areas. They are calling for more specialty training places to be funded nationwide.

The Murray Darling Medical School is currently petitioning the Treasurer, Health Minister and Education Minister to allocate $50m over a four year period and move 180 medical school spots from the city to regional Australia. At this stage the Federal government has not committed to funding the school or additional placements.