Addressing the Maldistribution of the Medical Workforce through Collaboration

By Anthony T. Baker, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University and Honorary Senior Fellow, LH Martin Institute.

This article is based on a case study that will be presented at the 2018 Service Improvement and Innovation in Tertiary Education Conference by the author.

The undersupply of medical workforce for rural and remote locations has been a persistent and long-term problem in Australia, and several other countries. Looking at the availability of medical practitioners to the Australian population on a per capita basis, the rural and remote regions may appear well-served by GPs in that the number of GPs per capita is greater in remote and very remote regions compared to major cities. Of course, a greater number of GPs per capita does not mean that medical services are easier to access in sparsely-populated remote regions. Compared to GPs, the situation with specialists is more serious with the number of specialists per unit population 3.7 times greater for major cities as compared to remote and very remote areas.

There have been many attempts to address this maldistribution of medical services in Australia with the use of education and training programs to influence health workforce distribution having been a major focus of the Commonwealth health portfolio for many years. A major feature of the focus on improving health workforce distribution is an acceptance that rural background and substantial training in a rural setting increase the likelihood of pursuing a rural career upon qualification as a medical practitioner.

The University of Melbourne and La Trobe University, with support from the Commonwealth Government, are working together to address the undersupply of the medical workforce in regional Australia.  On completing the La Trobe Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical) course, eligible regional students will enter The University of Melbourne Doctor of Medicine course at Shepparton.  Locating both the undergraduate program and the MD course in regional Victoria will increase the likelihood that the medical graduates will practice in regional Australia. The Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical) course will be offered at the Bendigo or Albury / Wodonga campuses of La Trobe University, commencing in 2019.  The La Trobe course) has been designed to prepare the students to meet the admission criteria for the University of Melbourne MD. Because the selection into the La Trobe undergraduate course is effectively selection into the University of Melbourne MD, subject to continued high performance, the two universities have worked closely together to establish the admission criteria and the selection process for the La Trobe Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical).

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Anthony Baker