AS DEBATE over the future of training doctors in southeastern Australia heats up, Charles Sturt University Vice Chancellor Andrew Vann slams critics and argues regional-based training is a “proven solution” for retaining medical students in regional communities.
A decision looms the proposal for a Murray Darling Medical School (MDMS), which advocates say will address significant doctor shortages in the bush.
For every 100,000 people in 2015, there were 442 doctors in major cities, but only 298 doctors in inner regional areas and just 279 in outer regional.
A government-commissioned report is set to be debated by Cabinet in coming weeks.
“We as a nation have invested hundreds of millions in initiatives that were supposed to fix maldistribution of doctors and it hasn’t worked,” the Wagga Wagga’s based Professor Vann said.
“We know from evidence at James Cook University (Townsville, Queensland) and Canada’s Northern Onotario School of Medicine that you really do need to do training in regions. It is a proven solution.”
The MDMS is a joint proposal from LaTrobe and Charles Sturt Universities to establish the first non-metropolitan medical school in south eastern Australia, providing a complete medical degree within the Murray Darling Basin.
The MDMS has put noses out of joint among the medical fraternity. Metropolitan universities provide all doctor training in southeastern Australia, based on city campuses and with clinical training in regional facilities.
The debate hinges on student placements. Government funds medical schools to train doctors.
The MDMS would take 180 students away from the medical schools and bring them to campuses in Orange, Wagga Wagga, and Bendigo, as well as satellite sites further afield.
AMA president Carmel Tebutt is a vocal critic and Sydney University has targeted federal MP and MDMS proponent Andrew Gee, taking out advertising in local Central Western NSW media to campaign against the new medical school.
They argue against new medical schools, advocating instead for a boost to specialist training placements in regional communities.
This would allow medical graduates to complete their intern year in the bush instead of leaving for a metropolitan placement.
The MDMS was modelled on the successful James Cook University, which has achieved a retention rate of 50 per cent of students staying to work in regional communities.
Metropolitan schools achieve a regional retention rate of about 12pc.
“Metropolitan people will advocate what they think is best for the institutions they’re from, but I am convinced we have the right solution for regional Australia,” Mr Vann said.
“The only people I can find who say otherwise have a conflict of interest. The AMA is filled with people from metro medical schools.”
“When people looking at moving to a regional, the first thing they ask are what are healthcare and education like?
“We absolutely have to get this right to sustain rural communities.”
The federal Health Department has engaged Ernst and Young to prepare a report on the MDMS proposal to help determine the geographic distribution of medical school placements.