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Flinders to establish regional hub to address medical workforce shortages

Regional News

Federal funding to establish a Regional Training Hub to address critical medical workforce needs in the Riverland has been awarded to Flinders University.

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Announced by Regional Health Minister Dr David Gillespie and the Member for Barker Tony Pasin MP, the initiative will expand the Government’s Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program.

The program will invest $3.9 million in three new centres nationally, with Flinders University receiving $1m to extend its successful RHMT-funded regional training hub model to Renmark.

The program allows health and medical students the opportunity to train in regional areas, aiming to recruit dentists, nurses and doctors into jobs in the area.

AMA(SA) Vice President and Port Lincoln GP Dr John Williams welcomes the move as a means of increasing the number of doctors likely to stay and work in rural areas.

In July 2021, data from Rural Doctors Association of SA showed the number of GPs in training applying for rural placements dropped from 72 in 2021 to 26 for placements in 2022.

“South Australia has been experiencing a chronic shortage of rural GPs and other specialists for many years,” Dr Williams said.

“It put patients’ lives at risk and their health outcomes are worse.

“We know medical students and junior doctors who spend time in rural areas are more likely to stay there.”

Dr Williams said for that to happen there is a need for state and federal funding and support for a Medicare system that adequately compensates GPs for the work they do.

“A program such as the regional training hub model that keeps them in the country, especially if that’s where they have grown up, is a known way to retain them in rural health as a career,” Dr Williams said.

Vice President and Executive Dean of the College of Medicine and Public Health Professor Jonathan Craig welcomed the commitment as further evidence that Flinders’ training hub activities are going from strength to strength.

“We’ve considered the fundamental challenges of attracting and retaining medical and health professionals in regional and remote areas and understand that people who know and love their area are more likely to have a long-term commitment to their region,” said Professor Craig.

“We’ve responded by creating a pipeline of opportunity – providing opportunities for rural school students to see what they can be.”

Health students can train in rural clinical schools, university departments of rural health, dental facilities, the Northern Territory Medical Program, and 26 regional training hubs. The ultimate aim of the program is for the students to forge bonds with rural communities and improve the retention of health practitioners in those areas.

Professor Craig stated he was also pleased with the work Flinders’ University had done to support and engage with indigenous students.

“Flinders has invested 25 years of expertise in developing the medical workforce in the Northern Territory…. [and] we’re especially pleased to see growing numbers of Indigenous graduates uniquely equipped to support their communities,” he said.

“The government’s strategic investment acknowledges Flinders’ leadership in rural and remote health, especially through the Australian central corridor, and will enable us to further extend our program to address another region facing critical workforce need.”

Dean of Rural and Remote Health Professor Robyn Aitken says Flinders will work in partnership with local providers to ensure local priorities are foremost.

“Our Riverland hub will be developed in partnership with the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network (RMCLHN) where we already expanding opportunities for Indigenous students and placements for students from rural backgrounds,” said Professor Aitken.

“There is a lot of debate about how best to address the rural doctor shortage. It won’t be solved overnight, however, Flinders has demonstrated that our robust program, strategically delivered, is developing a workforce that is tailor-made for the unique requirements of rural and remote regions.”

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