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Rural conference focuses on doctors’ health and training pathways

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The peak national event for rural doctors is set to kick off next week in the distinctly unrural Melbourne, with a stellar line-up of presenters.

Among the speakers at Rural Medicine Australia 2017 are former Greens leader Dr Bob Brown; Dr David Gillespie, Assistant Minister for Health; and Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King.

The event will include a Presidents’ Breakfast forum facilitated by distinguished medical broadcaster Dr Norman Swan, with a panel including RAGCP President Dr Bastien Seidel and the AMA’s Vice President Dr Tony Bartone, along with Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, President of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM).

Forum host Dr Ewen McPhee, President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), says the forum will cover a range of issues, including the poor distribution of doctors between urban and rural areas, as well as political initiatives such as the implementation of a National Rural Generalist Pathway.

“Key government and opposition members will be in attendance at the breakfast and we’ll be having discussions around medicopolitical issues, but also the broader issues of Medicare and the Medicare rebate, as well as the codeine prescription issue,” Dr McPhee told Doctorportal.

Dr McPhee said some of the key themes of the conferences would be doctors’ mental health.

“This is an issue that’s really come to the forefront, particularly with the recent spate of suicides of young clinicians. We need to recognise the privations and difficulties that always challenge doctors when they go rural and we have to understand how to build resilience in our rural doctors.”

Dr McPhee said other subjects that will be discussed at the conference include the ins and outs of cannabis prescribing, and also the role of the rural doctor in sports medicine.

“We’re looking at the issues around the country doctor also being for example the local rugby GP, and what are the obligations, tips and tricks around how you look after sports people in a country town where you don’t have access to sports medicine specialists – issues like dealing with concussion, minor sporting injuries or maintaining fitness.”

Dr McPhee praised several government initiatives to improve access to care in rural, regional and remote communities.

“I think the government has done a lot. They’ve legislated for a Rural Health Commissioner; they’ve created 100 extra places for rural specialist training. They’ve developed the Junior Doctor Training Innovation fund and they’re in the process of allowing universities to develop rural training hubs to facilitate regional training of clinicians, be they specialists or generalists. There’s a lot happening in rural, but we still need to see greater investment in primary care. Funding for primary practice is at its lowest ebb – we need different models of funding and care that lead to sustainable clinicians, making sure they stay in the region and are supported in the long term.”

He said the medical training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was another key issue in rural and remote medicine.

“Our goal is to have 1,000 Indigenous medical practitioners, and we’re sitting at around 200-300 at the moment. They absolutely need our support and we need to ensure First Nations people have the opportunities to get the training they need to become clinicians in their own communities. We’re still not doing enough and there’s no doubt it’s one of the issues we need to address.”

Rural Medicine Australia is the key annual rural medicine conference in Australia, and is jointly hosted by ACRRM and RDAA. You can access the program here.

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