Rewards of going rural, as doctors push for recognition
Stephanie Gardiner |
As a rural generalist doctor, Raymond Lewandowski might work in the emergency room in the middle of the night, tend to a birthing mother in the early hours and visit hospital patients during the day.
“It’s full on, there’s a lot of asks and a lot of things you have to do, but it’s also full on in its rewards,” said Dr Lewandowski, the president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding job and you’re part of the community; you feel like you’re serving a family, as opposed to just doing a job.”
Dr Lewandowski, a GP with advanced training in obstetrics and endoscopy, who practises in Innisfail, Queensland, is one of about 4000 rural generalists in country Australia.
Rural generalists are trained in general practice with extra qualifications in specialist areas, working across clinics and hospitals so country patients can access essential healthcare closer to home.
But rural generalist medicine is not formally recognised as a specialty, creating complex barriers in attracting doctors to live and work in the bush.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) have applied to the Medical Board to change that.
The colleges’ application says specialty recognition would incentivise doctors to work in remote areas and continue to allow country hospitals to provide advanced care where other specialists are in short supply.
It would also create a consistent national approach to training and employment, raising patients’ awareness that rural generalists have extra qualifications.
The application is part of decades of work on the national rural generalist pathway, a training program first funded in the 2019-20 federal budget to give doctors the skills to work in remote areas.
Queensland has had a recognised training pathway since 2007, a successful model emulated by other states.
ACCRM president Dan Halliday, a rural generalist based in southern Queensland, said growing recognition of the field was having a positive effect.
The rural college’s program was significantly oversubscribed this year, Dr Halliday said, with six per cent of acceptances from First Nations graduates.
Creating the new specialty would address health inequity in country areas, something many medical students were passionate about, he said.
“Living and working in rural areas can be seen as daunting,” Dr Halliday said.
“But because there is a developing professional network that has a good support structure around it means it’s more reassuring for our young doctors to consider taking it up as a career.”
Dr Lewandowski said rural generalists help communities save money by both reducing the need for travel and the reliance on locums.
“There are quite a few things that can be done safely and effectively in a rural setting,” he said.
Public consultation on the application is open until December 12.
Annabelle Brayley, chair of grassroots health advocacy group Remote Australians Matter, said the move could benefit people living in isolated areas.
“Recognising those extra skills might make the difference between some Australians getting the care they need and not getting it,” Ms Brayley said.