Steve Williamson, Geoff McColl, Deborah Carroll, and Nick Klomp signing the medical training agreement.
Steve Williamson, Geoff McColl, Deborah Carroll, and Nick Klomp signing the medical training agreement.

Dr reacts to ‘revolutionary’ plan to help worn out workers

A CENTRAL Queensland doctor who has had just three days off in about nine months welcomed a plan to boost staffing numbers in regional and rural areas.

An agreement among CQUniversity, The University of Queensland, and the Central Queensland and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Services, meant to go some way towards remedying a shortage of health care professionals in regional Queensland, was described at its launch event today as “absolutely transformational”.

The partnership, three years in the making and announced this morning, will create a seven-year program available to high school graduates from 2022 that will take participants straight into the medical field.

It involves three years at CQUniversity, four years in the University of Queensland’s Medicine Doctrate, and finally, vocational training, such as internships, provided through the two government health services.

There will be 20 students enrolled both at CQUniversity’s Rockhampton campus and its Bundaberg campus initially, to afterwards be increased to 30 at each site.

Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine President Dr Ewen McPhee.
Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine President Dr Ewen McPhee.

Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine president Dr Ewen McPhee said the arrangement would result in more doctors living in the areas they served, which in turn meant better care for patients.

“What we know is that young people who actually come from the communities which they’re going to be returning to as doctors are more likely to stay,” he said.

“They’re more likely to understand the rigours and the wonderful opportunities there are for them to work in regional Queensland.”

Dr McPhee works at the Emerald Medical Clinic.

He said he had been working since February without a break: his attendance at today’s launch event was his third day off in perhaps nine months.

“What we’ve seen in regional Australia is absolute fatigue,” he said.

“I’m just one doctor, and every doctor out there is worn out; every nurse is worn out; every health provider is worn out.

“It’s really hard when you can’t get relief.”

Dr McPhee, who grew up in Longreach, has worked rurally since 1989.

He said there was always more was needed to incentivise doctors, whether those incentives be financial or to do with infrastructure and accommodation.

“We do have a lot of doctors come and go: what that means is real uncertainty for patients,” he said.

“There’s an absolute maldistribution, an absolute shortage of doctors in rural Australia, and that’s getting worse all the time.

“We need those young people to see that as their career path and their future. We need more local kids getting out there and working in the country.”

The signed agreement.
The signed agreement.

CQUniversity Vice Chancellor and president Nick Klomp said although the deal benefited the universities and government health services, “there’s a much bigger game here, and that is the provision of medical services … to the regions”.

“The city-country maldistribution of medical experts and medical practitioners is something that just seemed too difficult to solve, and it required a genuine partnership, and that’s what we’re announcing today,” he said.

“You need to have a highly qualified health workforce across the board. What we’ve been lacking is the ability to attract and retain the medical workforce here in the regions.”

Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service chief executive Steve Williamson said the agreement was “a real milestone” that would provide a “stable medical workforce in our regions that allows us to deliver more services, more care, close to home.”

He said it would be “absolutely transformational”.

University of Queensland Faculty of Medicine executive dean Professor Geoff McColl said the program was unique in Australia.

“This is revolutionary, it’s extraordinarily important, and I know it will work,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the university to create the courses.

“There’s a lot of detail, but our lens is social accountability: it is actually serving the communities in which we are embedded.”

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive Deborah Carroll said it was about “supporting our local students to study locally” and encouraged Indigenous people to apply.