Australia is “well served” in terms of raw doctor numbers, but there are simply not enough in rural areas, according to the Acting Dean of the Medicine at the University of NSW.
The goal of establishing the newly announced medical school in Wagga is not to increase the overall number of doctors in the country, Professor Kelleher said, but instead try to change the balance of where these doctors choose to practice.
Professor Kelleher was in Wagga following the announcement that the Federal Government will spend $95.4 million to establish the network across NSW and Victoria, including at the University of NSW at Wagga.
Wagga’s University of NSW Rural Medical School will have a full complement of students by 2020.
Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, a long-time proponent of the medical school, said evidence showed that newly graduated doctors were most likely to live and work rurally if they or their partner had a rural background, or if they had trained there.
The Australian Medical Students Association has given a “cautious welcome” to the announcement, but president Alex Farrell has said students will likely still have to move to larger city hospitals for specialist training, and that these places are often hard to secure.
Professor Kelleher said some students would still have to move around.
“But as we get a critical mass of specialists in regional areas, then it becomes easier to justify the training in those regional areas,” he said.
“It is important so that people in the country don’t get second rate care, that they get adequate specialist training and they get specialists who are trained very, very well, so it’s getting that balance right and the regional hubs are a way of doing that.
“It’s already bearing fruit with specialist general practitioner training and it is slowly being expanded.
“There is this great disparity between the number of doctors in the city versus the number of doctors in the country and in rural area, and Australia, if you just take the numbers is very well served for doctors. What we need to do is get that distribution better so there is greater quality of health care.”