Concerning the Medical Workforce Maldistribution in Rural and Remote Regions

sussan leyThrough the past few years, health systems are under increasing pressure and no government can afford to spend its health budget unwisely.

Recently, in responding to a warning concerning that a doctor shortage may lead to a poorly distributed and ineffective workforce, the Health Minister Sussan Ley who was elected during a cabinet reshuffle in December 2014, responded “We’ll put doctors in areas on need”. The federal government has also confirmed the $150 million for supporting two training programs in 2016, through an overhauling and reshaping on Australia’s medical training system.


The Specialist Training Program, which requires trainees rotating, would receive $139 million in 2016 covering a wide breadth of specialties, including psychiatry, general surgery, pathology, radiology, dermatology, obstetrics and gynaecology.

The Emergency Medicine Program, on the other hand, will receive $18 million for training locations, which will supposedly not only increase the numbers of emergency physicians’ positions, but more importantly, provides emergency medicine training for doctors who may need to respond in an emergency situation, in particular those in rural and remote areas.

The gap appears while the residents of rural and remote communities experience poorer health outcomes but exhibit higher health and medical service need, hence the barriers of the current health workforce is not only associating with shortages but more importantly, maldistribution.

Is the government doing enough to attract doctors both locally and internationally to join the medical workforce at rural and remote areas in Australia? And will the new Specialist Training Program improve the distribution and accessibility to medical services?

The previous program of Rural Health Schools to train more rural doctors has been a disappointment to some people, since albeit the hundreds of millions of dollars invested, the statistics still shown the effectiveness of rural medical workforce to remained the same and even went backwards. The Australian National Audit Office found the Specialist Training Program had generally been effective but questioned the extent to which it has, or will, contribute to an improved geographical distribution of specialist services.

However, if the number of medical students in Australia is further increased without extra investment in training infrastructure, it won’t increase the number of doctors serving the rural and remote communities, it might only increase the number of unemployed doctors. Therefore, incentives should also be provided in the aim of building more medical services both public hospitals and private hospitals, so that the problem of lacking medical services in non-metro region can be improved from its root.






The Australians, March 19th


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