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A rewarding career as a family doctor

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This week is Family Doctor Week 2013, and the AMA will be celebrating the hard work and dedication of the nation’s family doctors – the GPs who serve local communities in the cities, country towns and remote areas of Australia.

The family doctor is, and must remain, the foundation of the health system.

Ensuring a general practice workforce for the future will be, in my view, a key issue.

It is widely acknowledged that there are shortages in Australia’s medical workforce, particularly in outer metropolitan, rural and remote areas. It is predicted that that by 2025 there will be a shortage of 2700 doctors. 

Currently in regional and rural Australia there simply are not enough general practitioners.

While metropolitan areas have 124 GPs per 100,000 head of population, in inner regional areas there are only 106, and only 99 in outer regional areas.

In addition, general practices – particularly in regional and rural areas – are heavily reliant on International Medical Graduates to sustain their existing workforces, and this is expected to remain the case through to at least 2025. 

To help relieve this shortage, the Government has increased the number of medical student places available at university medical schools.

However, significant bottlenecks are developing in medical training due to projected shortages in training places beyond medical school – at the intern, prevocational and specialist (including general practice) training levels.

It is vital that the next Government ensures there are enough GPs to meet the health care needs of the population.

The increased number of medical students need quality experiences in general practice, and access to training places that will enhance knowledge and build the skills of the next generation of GPs. The Government can contribute by:

  • increasing the Practice Incentive Payment for teaching medical students to $200 per teaching session, so that it better reflects the costs to general practice of teaching medical students;
  • committing to the ongoing funding of at least 100 intern places a year in expanded settings, including private hospitals;
  • increasing the number of places in the Prevocational GP Placements Program to 1500 places a year by 2016, and to 1700 places a year by 2019, supporting more junior doctors to have a quality general practice experience; and
  • increasing the GP training program intake to 1500 places a year by 2016, and to 1700 places a year by 2019.

On the subject of training, the 16th report of the Medical Training Review Panel (MTRP) reminds us all of the extensive training (10 to 14 years) required to become a general practitioner.

Those doing the most will generally work in rural practice, which requires advanced training.

In 2012, almost half of all GP trainees were completing their general practice training through the longer rural pathways. This is indicative of how the profession responds to the needs of the community.

While more training places are part of the solution, addressing GP shortages – particularly in rural areas – will require a comprehensive approach that includes appropriate incentives, professional support, and takes into account the needs of a GP’s family members with respect to access to education and other family needs.

The AMA’s Key Health Issues for the 2013 Federal Election document, launched this week, further outlines the AMA thinking on this score.

And of course, we could do without a great big new tax on learning that both sides of politics seem committed to at this point.

This will also be an election issue for the AMA.