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Grads face intern place shortfall, yet again

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Around 240 medical graduates could be left stranded without an intern place next year, undermining efforts to boost the supply of locally-trained doctors and reduce the nation’s heavy reliance on offshore recruitment to fill gaps in the medical workforce.

As governments nationwide continue to fumble the issue of medical workforce planning, the National Medical Intern Data Management Working Group has reported a shortage of about 240 internships for medical students graduating this year.

AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis said the shortfall amounted to a “shameful waste” of the nation’s hefty investment in medical training.

“There are many communities, particularly in rural and regional Australia, that are in desperate need of doctors,” Dr Parnis said. “It is a shameful waste of a vital resource if we have hundreds of medical graduates unable to become doctors because of short-sighted governments.”

Medical school is only the first step in the process toward becoming a doctor, and internships – typically provided by public hospitals – are a vital next step in the medical training pathway.

But, though there has been a huge increase medical school places in the past decade, this has not been matched by similar growth in the number of internships, pre-vocational and vocational training places, creating bottlenecks in the training system and leaving an increasing number of trainee doctors stranded and unable to complete their education in Australia.

The problem has been exacerbated by divided responsibilities stemming from Australia’s federal system of government – while the Commonwealth is the main source of funding for universities (including medical schools), public hospitals are primarily a State and Territory responsibility.

These divides have so far undermined attempts to develop a nationally co-ordinated approach to medical training – something that the National Medical Training Advisory Network has been created to address.

Dr Parnis lamented the failure of governments at all levels to work together to ensure the medical training system had the resources it needed to ensure the country was producing sufficient doctors to meet future need.

“Every year we get a commitment to medical training from governments, and every year we seem to be getting a lack of commitment to provide sufficient intern positions,” the AMA Vice President said. “All governments must sign up to a medical training plan, and stick with it.”

Australian Medical Students Association President Jessica Dean warned that, even if the Commonwealth Medical Initiative delivered an extra 76 intern places in 2015 – as it did in 2014 – this would still leave more than 160 medical graduates without a place.

Under current arrangements, full-fee paying medical students from overseas can only receive an internship once all domestic students have secured a place. In practice, this has meant that these are the students who miss out on an internship after spending an average $250,000 to complete their degree.

Ms Dean said this was not only unfair but nonsensical.

“These students have spent up to six years immersed in Australian culture, learning our diseases, and training in our health care system,” she said. “They are perfectly suited to serve in Australia. As regions continue to suffer from doctor shortages, it is nonsensical to be wasting another cohort of medical graduates.”

Adrian Rollins