Australia needs a major rethink on how primary health care is delivered to help ease rural shortages, according to a senior doctor from the NSW Riverina.
Associate Professor John Preddy from the University of NSW Medicine's Rural Clinical School in Wagga was speaking to The Daily Advertiser about the growing shortage of doctors, particularly GPs, in regional areas.
"The old model of 'let's just try and train enough doctors and eventually someone will move to Hay and provide care' is just not going to work. We need a different model," Professor Preddy said.
"It's actually quite a hard career. You're on your own in a room, seeing people all day. In a way, the training we put medical students through may not match primary care medicine very well.
"I think in primary care as a career option, particularly rural practice, we need to look at different models of providing rural practice because I think it's a real challenge for a med student to train in Wagga, intern in Wagga, GP train in the region, then go to, say, Cootamundra and be a rural doctor.
"What are they going to do? They've got to look after a child's immunisations, the mum's early pregnancy, the guy who rolls a tractor on themselves and has a major injury. It's a very challenging thing to do."
Professor Preddy advocates a new training model for young doctors, which would allow them to remain with a single employer, rather than moving between periods of employment in private practice and with local health districts.
Jill Ludford, the chief executive of the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, said significant work had already started in redesigning the way medical services were provided to rural patients.
"GPs are the only specialists that have the breadth of knowledge and skills to provide all the services that are required in a rural hospital. Some of these doctors need to have advanced skills in anaesthesia, obstetrics and emergency medicine," Ms Ludford said.
"The district has partnered with the Murrumbidgee Medical Training Hub of University of NSW to develop a rural GP training pathway that aims to recruit and retain GPs in rural practice. This model had a number of benefits including continuity of care and retention of obstetric and surgical services in smaller towns."
Len Bruce, MLHD director of medical services, said training doctors in rural areas was not only likely to encourage them to stay, but also helped forge important professional links.