15 July 2017 Dr Ayman Shenouda
The Federal Government’s $54.4 million investment to create 26 regional training hub sites nationally sees yet another significant rural health reform realised. Providing a more seamless transition from undergraduate training into rural practice, I believe the hubs measure is one of the most important reforms since the establishment of the Rural Clinical Schools nationally in 2000.
Having this policy realised is also a proud moment for me knowing that RACGP Rural was at the forefront of this reform having developed rural medical training pathway options for the Commonwealth through a major study undertaken in 2013.
What we now have with this policy is the level of integration we called for with the hubs being our highest ask. It’s also clear that other aspects of the full pipeline investment were informed by this study, which was one of the largest member-led rural consultations ever undertaken. Collectively these initiatives represent a significant rural training investment and it’s a great achievement for the sector.
It’s a substantial package, the three-part integrated rural pipeline package provides just short of $94 million over four years with the regional training hubs forming a key policy component. It also includes a rural junior doctor innovation fund and further investment to expand the rural specialist training program. Three new University Departments of Rural Health have also been committed for strategic sites across WA, NSW, and Queensland.
We’re also seeing some policy shifts here which are significant. Particularly in those key areas where we’ve been calling for change in order to address the policy gaps which impede integration. These are those junctions which occur from student to intern and intern to registrar which offer real opportunity in terms of being critical rural commitment points.
Firstly, in this policy, we see a clear focus on embedding more primary care earlier into the training. A new strategy to provide more internships that include rotations in general practice addresses a really significant problem where the lack of exposure to rural practice at this critical time impacts our recruitment goals. Factoring rural primary care rotations for rurally based first-year interns ensures this exposure across multiple settings. It doesn’t minimise the required hospital exposure but ensures essential exposure to community-based rural general practice.
While the early linkage of intern positions with specialist training positions is also evident through providing up to 100 new rural training places. We need to ensure our next generation of rural doctors are nurtured and supported once captured. This investment will go a long way towards supporting that aim by ensuring there is the capacity to provide high-quality rural placements.
We know there is a link between where a student ends up and where they completed their post-graduate studies. But even with the strongest rural interest and the best intentions, not everyone is suited and it takes a substantial personal commitment to make it work and stay.
We now have more capacity through this pipeline initiative to get those supportive elements right in order to provide a stable learning environment to equip trainees with the skillset they will need. Even more importantly it helps to ensure support can be sustained long enough to provide trainees with the skills and confidence required which makes staying much more likely.
The hubs provide for the right set of supports that will help us capture for rural the increasing domestic graduates coming through. It enables the university-hospital-community partnerships we need to set the right conditions to encourage more doctors to practise in rural areas.
This model facilitates a level of integration that will allow adequate clinical exposure in a rural area across all training stages. Most of all it provides a way to maintain a link to a specific rural community and to facilitate longer terms in rural areas.
What also needs to be emphasised here is a program of complete immersion. The step beyond rural exposure and a commitment towards longer placements. Community connectedness can only be achieved through longer placements in the same community throughout the full training continuum.
More cohesive and tailored training options will result. A more varied training experience will be able to occur, one which is appropriate to the learning stage but also flexible enough to be in line with community health needs.
Longer placements with multiple levels of learning are more effective allowing for the required immersion. It connects the trainee to the key players in the community, developing a network and connection to community through mentorship. Importantly they learn the value of rural general practice on their way through.
Policy success will, of course, be determined by improvements in the rural retention rate over time but I have no doubt the pipeline investment will work to build the right supports to make rural training a much more viable option.
These measures provide for the supportive and coordination factors as well as some much-needed infrastructure to make rural training work. It helps to formalise the networks needed to provide a pathway continuum for medical education and training from medical school to rural practice. All this combined provides a comprehensive policy solution which will translate into rural recruitment success and workforce retention over time.
Further reading: RACGP Rural developed a Position Statement to support policy implementation of the Regional Training Hubs.