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Rural doctors want support

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In the first part of 2016, the AMA has been involved in three studies concerning rural health care. Briefly, they are:

1. AMA Plan for Better Health Care for Regional, Rural and Remote Australia.

This plan is focused on four clear areas needing our attention: rebuilding and cherishing the ‘good ol’ country hospital’; recruitment and retention of ‘fit-for-purpose’ rural doctors; fostering a new workforce of bright-eyed, bushy tailed young doctors eager to remain in the outback; and support of rural practices – this includes CPD, infrastructure and workforce distribution. 

2. Building a Sustainable Future for Rural Practice – the Rural Rescue Package.

A Joint AMA/RDAA Policy Statement. This is an easy-to-read, short paper with a rather brilliant suggestion for a two-tiered incentive system. The first tier is incentive payments and stipends to entice a happy workforce to stay and thrive in rural regions. The second tier of incentives is to encourage procedural and special skills in the rural workforce. Someone recently said that plumbers are so well compensated in the Outback that to find rural plumbing jobs is difficult. Can you imagine a future where rural medical positions were so sought after that doctors will be competing for that position? 

3.The 2016 Rural Health Issues Survey

It is this third study which is the most personal of the three. It is the voice of the rural doctors themselves speaking by way of a survey sent to them. The questions were posed by asking the doctors to rate the importance of 31 different proposals.

I was humbled when I read and re-read the results of the survey.

The way I read the results, the doctors clearly want support more than hard cash. None of the top 10 proposals would increase the income of the rural doctor. Instead, they want more of their kind with them, helping the roster, adding specialised services, locum relief, allied and ancillary staff, trainees to mentor and, of course, they want their family with them.

They also want to see support by way of “stuff”. Such amenities as walls, equipment, facilities. More evanescent, but definitely under the heading of amenities, is the need for broadband. These are doctors 500 kilometres from the nearest restaurant or movie theatre. They may be holed up on the other side of a flooded road in the Wet; they have no privacy – everyone in the community knows “the Doc”. These overworked souls need the worldwide web for sanity, for education, to communicate. Handy that it also helps with work.

Finally, they want to feel confident and competent. Every day there is a chance of going out of one’s comfort zone. They want opportunities to upskill, and support for skills that are not always needed but could be readily used. The support should come from colleges, that camera on the ceiling above the resus bed, the specialists on the phone encouraging them, and a medical board that is slow to criticise.

I tip my hat to you who answered the survey, you are fine people. You ask for things for your fellow doctors before you ask it for yourself. You are looking at the future where there is optimism, self-sufficiency and pride in your work. The choice of a rural location is not just a choice but a calling. You see yourself as part of the Outback, a key and respected member of that rural community. I see that you are trying to bring more doctors to the fold. As you watch another brilliant sunset, with a black cockatoo chiding at you and 10 roos ignoring you, be proud of your career path. You are the best. Thank you for being there.