AS a rural-origin doctor, I am the subject of many debates. I have been surveyed more times than I can count, and the career choices that I make contribute to scrutinised statistics, impacting political folly and funding.
For there exists a subconscious and, occasionally, even overt expectation that rural-origin doctors must and will solve the rural health workforce maldistribution.
We are expected to remedy a crisis that predominates as a result of decades of inadequate funding and poor planning. One that is still on many levels controlled from the comfort of our capital cities, and discussions about which we may have difficult or inadequate access to contribute.
It is often expected that our dedication to our communities alone will enable us to overcome all odds, including the many varied and formidable barriers to training that we continue to face.
We are the saviours of rural Australia, and any deviation represents a failure of our participation in medicine. In exchange for accessing the privilege of medicine through quotas and scholarship support, we sign an unwritten contract as well as, in many cases, a written one.
And although I too hope that I make a meaningful contribution towards closing our rural gap, the expectations that I have experienced as a rural-origin doctor have often been as unrealistic as my goals to meet them.
It is simply not practical to expect the goodwill of the individual to sustain our rural communities, nor is it even really possible.
What we need instead is acceptance of the inconvenient truth: that rural-origin doctors are people too. People who have their own wants and needs. People whose inherent value should not be determined by government agenda. People who, even at the most selfless and successful of times, remain limited by a broken system.
Rural-origin medical students and doctors bring with them a wealth of diversity and lived experience, and we should continue our concerted efforts to recruit them. But, even more importantly, we should begin to listen to them, to their struggles and to their solutions.
So, while many are describing this year as a watershed for rural health, with potential for real and sustained growth and gain, I encourage you to cast a thought and maybe an ear to our rural-origin doctors, a cohort of colleagues so often discussed, frequently studied, but seldom heard.
It’s time to challenge the notion that our crisis will be solved by simply adding more unheard voices into the rural doctor population. Instead we must embrace rural-origin doctors not as the solution, but as the medium through which the problem can finally, truly be understood.
Only then can we expect real change to begin.
Dr Skye Kinder is a rural-origin doctor and Victoria’s Junior Doctor of the Year for 2017. She was recently appointed to the Board of the Rural Doctors Association of Victoria and is an active member of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia Residents and Registrars Rural Special Interest Group. Follow @skyekinder on Twitter.
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