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Independent report confirms need for more medical education

Posted: 12 February 2014

An independent report commissioned by Curtin University has confirmed there is a need to train more medical students in Western Australia to meet the needs of the growing population.

The report – entitled “WA – A Sorry State for Medical Education and Training” – is based on data that is publicly available and supports the findings of other recent reports such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2014 report on Australia’s medical workforce, which confirmed WA continued to have the lowest levels of doctors in Australia.

Dr Felicity Jefferies, a former executive director of the WA Country Health Service, who now works as an independent health consultant, was commissioned to produce the report.

Curtin University Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Stirling said the report confirmed that the underlying problem for WA is an absolute shortage of doctors in critical areas.

“There is also an immediate need to ensure that those already in the training pipeline have access to appropriate postgraduate training opportunities,” Professor Stirling said.

Dr Jefferies’ report verifies that WA has:

  • a current shortage of 950 doctors
  • a reliance on 1,150 more overseas-trained doctors than the national average
  • fewer doctors overall per head of population than the rest of Australia
  • fewer General Practitioners (GPs) per head of population than the rest of Australia
  • fewer medical students and doctors in training per head of population than the rest of Australia
  • more overseas-trained doctors per head of population than the rest of Australia
  • the highest rate of population growth in Australia. This means the disparity between WA and others states will increase even further unless addressed immediately.

The report recommends that an increase in medical student numbers should commence at an intake of 70 in 2016, rather than the proposed 100, to better enable supervision and postgraduate training and internships in 2021. It also recommends that growth towards a larger cohort should be aligned with growth in internships and postgraduate training positions.

“In response to the report, the University proposes to commence the Curtin Medical School with a cohort of 70 students and progressively grow to meet the needs of the WA community. This will help to ensure that adequate training places can be made available as graduate numbers grow,” Professor Stirling added.

The Curtin Medical School requires approval by the Australian Government and subsequent accreditation from the Australian Medical Council. Curtin is keen to work with stakeholders, including Federal and State Governments, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), WA General Practice Education and Training (WAGPET) and other training providers to enable the progressive ramping up of student numbers in line with state needs. Curtin agrees that every effort should be made to ensure that medical graduates have access to an internship and appropriate prevocational training geared to areas of workforce need.

The Report also recommended that Curtin needs to make a clear and unequivocal commitment and statement that it will maintain the first degree course offer and commitment to supporting pathways into areas of workforce shortage. Curtin remains steadfast in its commitment that the Medical School will be distinctive and complement the two existing postgraduate medical schools already operating in this state. It distinguishing features will include:

  1. Geographic location in eastern and southern suburbs in areas undersupplied with doctors, as well as significant new rural placements.
  2. A direct-entry five year undergraduate medical course providing students the choice to study medicine from day one at university and to graduate and enter the work force two years earlier than the postgraduate route allows.
  3. A focus on general practice (GPs), aged care and mental health to address the unmet needs of communities with GP and primary healthcare shortages.
  4. Creation of new clinical schools and new community placements, de-emphasising central Perth tertiary hospital placements and emphasising primary healthcare skills.
  5. Appropriate training in inter-professional teamwork, building on Curtin’s international reputation in this field.
  6. Student selection: the aim is to recruit 45% of undergraduate students from rural, regional and/or socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Curtin University’s ethos of training, with its focus on general practice and with placements in community practice settings, combined with its student selection policy, is expected to increase the number of students who choose to practice as doctors in underserviced communities and undersupplied medical disciplines, such as general practice.

Curtin will work with panels of doctors in local communities to assist with the selection, mentoring and long-term community placement and training of our students. Engagement with these supportive doctors has already commenced.

Dr Felicity Jefferies, Healthfix Consulting:

Dr Felicity Jefferies trained as a general practitioner and worked in rural general practice, before spending five years as Director of the WA College of Rural and Remote Medicine. She became Chief Executive Officer of Rural Health West – the rural workforce agency – and prior to her retirement from the public sector last year, was Executive Director (clinical reform) of WA Country Health Services for five years. She has served on the Medical Board of WA for 10 years and was a Foundation Board Member of Health Workforce Australia.