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Internships put under microscope

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The nation’s medical internship system may be overhauled after the nation’s Health Ministers announced what could be a wide-ranging review.

In a move greeted cautiously by the AMA Council of Doctors in Training (AMACDT), the Standing Council on Health – the peak meeting of Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers – has announced that a Review of Medical Intern Training has been commissioned.

In a communique, the Ministers said the review would “examine the current medical internship model and consider potential reforms to support medical graduate transition into practice and further training”.

The Australian Health Minsters’ Advisory Council will appoint an independent expert, to be supported by an Expert Advisory Panel, in time to begin the Review in the second half of the year.

Announcement of the Review comes as the training system struggles to provide sufficient places to cope with the rapid growth in medical graduate numbers in recent years.

Nine medical schools have been established in the last decade, and the number of medical graduates is soaring, from 1500 in 2004 to an estimated 3800 this year, causing increasing strain in the medical training pipeline.

In recent years a number of graduates have been unable to secure internships, forcing them to consider continuing their studies overseas.

It is not yet clear whether the adequacy on internship places will be considered as part of the review, but AMACDT Chair Dr James Churchill said that even if it did not encompass this issue, it could still be worthwhile as long as the intention was to improve the quality of medical education rather than reducing the nation’s medical training bill.

 “It is important that the focus of the review be on the quality of internship training, not simply cost-cutting or shortening training without protections to support quality,” Dr Churchill said, adding the AMACDT would welcome to opportunity to contribute to the review.

The Federal Government earlier this year took a step toward easing the pressure on internship places, unveiling a scheme to place up to 100 medical graduates a year in private hospitals around the country.

Under the $40 million scheme, to run over the next four years, up to 100 Australian-trained international medical graduates a year will be able to complete their training in private hospitals in regional areas.

Resolution of the issue of inadequate inter places has been dogged by disputes between the different levels of government over who should fund the extra internship places.

The AMA is on an advisory committee (the National Medical Training Advisory Network Executive Committee) that has been formed to recommend ways to improve the planning and coordination of training and get rid of wasteful bottlenecks and shortages.

Health Workforce Australia said the Network would enable, for the first time, the creation of a nationally coordinated medical training system.

In the meantime, Mr Dutton said the extra training places made available through the Commonwealth Medical Internship Scheme would help address the internship crisis.

“This investment will further support Australia’s medical workforce and, with the shortage of doctors at critical levels in many areas across the country, it’s important to provide these opportunities outside metropolitan centres,” the Minister said.

Mr Dutton said working with private hospitals to enhance training opportunities was an example of the innovative solutions the Government was committed to delivering to strengthen the health workforce.

Adrian Rollins