Why is there so much focus on encouraging more doctors to work in the bush rather than a holistic approach that recognises the need for other health professionals as well?
That’s a question that’s been bothering Shannon Nott, a medical student who is Co-Chair of the National Rural Health Students’ Network, in the wake of a recent Federal announcement of more funding for GP training.
“The health status of rural and remote Australians is simply not good enough. For too long now, we have waved the white flag when it comes to addressing the health inequities that exists in outback Australia. We have reached a stage with new health reforms and debates taking place, where we can battle the problems in the bush and not mask them with temporary quick fixes.
I am a medical student from the University of New South Wales and also Co-Chair of Australia’s largest multi-disciplinary health student body – The National Rural Health Students Network. For years we have been pounding at the door for equity in terms of the health workforce and health outcomes of Australia’s rural and remote peoples and it seems now that the wheels are beginning to turn in this area of dire need.
What we need in order to turn around the discrepancies in health service across this country is one simple thing – equity. Let’s cut away the fat when we talk about workforce reform and look at what is really needed – the most optimal health service delivery for rural and remote Australians that will improve their status.
That is it, it isn’t about doctors or nurses or paramedics, it is about providing better service delivery for rural and remote Australians. It has been long recognised that an inter-professional team working synergistically results in better outcomes for the patient.
So then, I ask ‘Why do we seem to only focus on doctors when we speak about health reform?’
It is undoubtedly obvious that doctors form an integral aspect to the health team and efforts to improve doctor numbers in the bush are needed, but we will continue to see overworked, overburdened doctors in the bush if we do not start looking to provide them with the support they need.
Now is a time for us to look at health holistically and recognise the vital role that ALL health professionals play in the management of patients. We know through programs introduced for medical students and young doctors what works in terms of attracting them to the bush, so it is now time for us to start looking toward providing similar incentives for their poorer cousins allied health and nursing.
I am not saying that medical incentives are at a point which is perfect, but they are miles ahead of those offered to allied health and nursing students.
We know that by providing students with positive rural or remote placements at university, they are more likely to return to the bush upon graduation. So let’s start providing all students with positive placements. This involves not only financially supporting all students through such placements but also providing logistical support as well when getting students out to such areas. This includes helping students plan and select appropriate rural placements but also by providing them with community contacts to which lie the responsibility of integrating these students into the community.
We also need to start looking outside the box when it comes to the provision of incentives for medical, nursing and allied health professionals entering rural or remote practice.
At the moment much of this revolves around financial remuneration, which is important, however we cannot forget the non-monetary incentives that many young professionals seek. These include ensuring access to continuing professional development, adequate infrastructure in the health workplace, access to assured leave and most importantly access to professional support.
So let’s get serious about improving health outcomes for rural Australians and start promoting rural practice to all health professionals.
It is time to get fair dinkum about rural and remote health and it is time to begin listening to the future health workforce and address their needs to ensure that rural and remote Australia are viable workplaces for the next generation.”