CSU continues fight for Riverina Medical School

CSU Vice-Chancellor Andrew Vann.
CSU Vice-Chancellor Andrew Vann.

The government has put Australia’s uneven distribution of medical students under the microscope, prompting a renewed campaign for a medical school in Wagga.

Tumut, Hay and West Wyalong have all struggled with GP shortages in recent years, which Charles Sturt University vice-chancellor Andrew Vann blames on medical students studying in the city. 

The mooted Riverina Medical School based in Wagga, Bendigo and Orange would hold a minimum of 80 per cent of places for students in the bush.

Ten new medical schools have been built since Australia’s chronic doctor shortage 20 years ago, but Mr Vann said “the city elites” were reaping the rewards. 

“Nine of those 10 new medical schools were located in metropolitan areas, and over this period our rural and regional communities have continued to suffer doctor shortages and reduced access to necessary care, which has resulted in increased rates of chronic disease and lower life expectancy,” Mr Vann said. 

Close to 60 per cent of rural medical students who study in the city want to work in the bush when they start, but by the final year of their degrees only 10 per cent are still willing.

“In sharp contrast, at James Cook University, this intention to practice in rural areas actually increased during the same period; from 68 per cent to 76 per cent,” Mr Vann said. 

“By educating (students) in rural and regional Australia, 85 per cent of our graduates subsequently live, work and make their life in a rural or regional community.”

The Federal Health and Education Department is conducting a stock-take of the number and location of medical students and will recommend changes to Cabinet after April.

The government has already committed $94 million to build up specialist training in the bush, but passed over the Riverina Medical School.

The government shunned an expansion medical undergraduate places after predictions Australia would the nation will be flooded with 7000 excess practitioners by 2030.

Gundagai GP and former president of the Rural Doctors Association (RDA) Paul Mara said Wagga would be better served by expansion of the existing University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Notre Dame rural clinical schools.

“Wagga would benefit from a go to woe medical school, but I don’t agree that means we need another medical school,” Dr Mara said.

“CSU, UNSW and Notre Dame need to get their heads together and remove some of the places from city medical schools and bring them to the bush.

“We need a rural generalist program from year one.”