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Getting the levers right: a way forward for rural medicine

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The government needs to develop better policies now to ensure a future for rural health care

Anyone who has spent time in the bush knows that if you have seen one rural town, you have only seen one rural town. Tamworth is not the same as Cooktown or Bendigo . . . or any of the towns in between.

Different locations across rural Australia vary in their level of attractiveness to doctors and what medical skills they may require. Regardless of a location’s attractiveness, without appropriate support services and incentives, the next generation of doctors is more likely to gravitate towards urban general practice or specialist practice than towards the bush. This is worrying, given that the iconic rural doctors who have been the backbone of rural medical care for decades are fast approaching retirement.

Generational changes are influencing the working patterns of younger doctors. They are increasingly mobile and want to work fewer hours generally, and more sociable hours overall. Many are daunted by the responsibility and commitment associated with owning a practice. However, many younger doctors still want to provide holistic care for a community as well as individual patients. This is something that rural practice can deliver in spades.

To seal the deal in getting these doctors into rural practice, these generational changes must be reflected in medical workforce policies and programs.…