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Supervisors – powerhouses of the medical workforce

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I recently had the opportunity to reflect momentarily on how our well-oiled training allows us to so confidently and expeditiously care for our patients in a vast array of situations. One of my colleagues in the clinic had to attend to a patient with chest pain in the treatment room, something most of us have had to deal with. Making sure he did not need extra assistance, I observed the calm yet confident manner with how he dealt with the critical situation.

We can do all of those things because of our medical training and education, the clinical and professional skills we learned from working with dedicated supervisors, who in many cases become our mentors and friends.

The standard of medicine practised in Australia is consistently ranked among the best in the developed world. This is because we have a highly trained medical workforce based on the established apprenticeship model, with our Colleges maintaining education and independently determined training standards.

However, this model which has served us so well in the past is now at risk. Insufficient postgraduate positions and increasing numbers of graduates and aspiring trainees are stretching the system.

Continual advocacy by the AMA has ensured that there is a growing awareness that we do not have enough prevocational and specialist training places for the increasing number of new doctors. Whether governments and health policymakers are fully awake to the urgency of these worsening shortages is a topic for another time.

Unfortunately, I think it’s forgotten sometimes that clinical supervisors are the powerhouses of our apprenticeship model of training doctors. For the AMA, it is clear that to meet the challenge of training the expanding medical workforce, more clinical supervisors need to be found, supported and properly recognised and rewarded.

Boosting supervision capacity is a pivotal issue for our doctors in training, and the AMA has developed a significant suite of policy proposals and ideas in recent years.

To assist our ongoing advocacy, the AMA, led by the Medical Workforce Committee, has prepared a position statement that brings together these policies into a stand-alone document.

Building Capacity for Clinical Supervision in the Medical Workforce 2017 affirms our view that training and supervising new doctors is just as important as delivering services in the health system.

The document emphasises that the apprenticeship model of medical training is as relevant as it was as five decades ago, and shows that building supervision capacity across the spectrum of public, private, general practice and rural settings has common and unique sets of challenges and solutions.

Any discussion on this issue should not neglect the importance of ensuring that clinical supervisors have the support they need to train the next generation of doctors, as well as fostering a culture within medicine that encourages teaching and training.

From a personal perspective, many of my colleagues and I have found supervising junior colleagues to be a demanding yet thoroughly rewarding experience, with much gained in return.

Regrettably, I hear from different sources that protected time is not always available for teaching and training and simply added onto other responsibilities. Worse still, I hear many stories of those who have ended their roles because of a lack of support time or resources. I also know of VMOs and staff specialists who are actively discouraged from setting aside time for these activities. This makes no sense at all. Surely, now is the time to be boosting, not diminishing support for our supervisors.

Building Capacity for Clinical Supervision in the Medical Workforce 2017 outlines what the AMA believes has to be done from the industrial, financial, regulatory and cultural perspectives. I encourage you to take a look.