THE federal government has unveiled a radical new employment strategy for regional doctors, allowing them to work at both a hospital and a private practice at the same time.
The flexible employment model will be trialled in the Murrumbidgee region, where local health advocates came up with the idea, which aims to increase the number of generalist doctors in regional Australia.
Rural Health Minister Mark Coulton has high hopes for the program, which if successful will be rolled out in other regional areas.
"The idea is that junior and generalist doctors would be employed by a region, rather than a particular practice," Mr Coulton said.
"So they might do a period of time in a town practice as a GP, then maybe a day a week working in the hospital in what might be their speciality."
Mr Coulton said people living in a large regional town of a few thousand had an expectation that "you should be able to have a baby there".
"There might be not enough work there as an obstetrician," he said
"A generalist who works as a GP, but has obstetrician training would fit in perfect for a town like that."
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Attracting doctors to regional areas is not a new challenge, but with more rural GPs retiring every year, there are concerns the issue could snowball.
About 30 per cent of GP training places in regional Australia are vacant this year.
Rural Doctors Association of Australia president John Hall said his organisation was working hard to show young doctors the exciting career and lifestyle opportunities that await them in regional areas.
"We are reaching a crisis point in the rural doctor workforce now," Dr Hall said.
"Rural generalists really are the specialists in rural health care. But the clock is still ticking. Every month we see more rural GPs and generalists retiring and the pipeline of doctors to step in and take their place is failing.
"There is no point in building excitement around a rural medical career if we can't provide an attractive training pathway.
Mr Coulton said the other benefit of the flexible Murrumbidgee model was the support network of highly-qualified health professionals that would surround newcomers.
"One of reasons junior doctors are reluctant to go to rural because the responsibilities are so broad," he said.
"One moment you could be treating a patient and the next thing you know there's a car crash or a serious situation and often you're only one there.
"The idea is to have that broader network. Part of the generalist training is you're given a broader range of skills.
"You come out the end with a career positive, rather than the current perception of a career negative."