Government pulling ‘all possible levers’ to get GPs out bush

4 minute read

The RDAA will keep a close eye on the government’s new $30.5m program to incentivise IMGs to spend time in regional practice.

The federal government has opened a two-year pilot program to support practices to provide international medical graduates and other non-vocationally recognised doctors with general practice experience before joining fellowship programs.

The $30.5 million Pre-Fellowship Program will replace and expand upon the More Doctors for Rural Australia Program to support at least 150 doctors per year in areas of shortage.

The program aims to provide financial support for the supervision and development costs for overseas doctors and other non-vocationally recognised doctors, such as those looking to pivot from the hospital, to experience general practice outside of major city centres before joining a fellowship program.

It will also allow doctors with placements in distribution priority areas to access MBS items and provide the training necessary to join a college fellowship program with the RACGP or ACCRM.

The expansion of the MDRA program – which provided incentives capped at $30,000 and was available only to rural and remote practices – will increase incentives to up to $85,000 per doctor per year, depending on rurality, and will be available to all distribution priority areas, including outer suburbs of major cities.

Speaking to The Medical Republic, RACGP vice president Associate Professor Michael Clements said the college supported increased funding for rural general practices, but that this incentive wasn’t rural specific.

“There are some metropolitan locations which are DPAs,” he said.

“These may be more able to attract GPs with the incentive, which is a positive, so long as it doesn’t dilute the incentive for rural and remote practices.”

Professor Clements added that the college supported the use of incentives to pull GPs to higher need areas and hoped the tiered allocation, with more remote practices receiving higher funding, would get doctors to where they’re needed most.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia CEO Peta Rutherford told TMR the incentives attached to the program may be more reflective of the true costs of providing supervision, therefore making it a more attractive program to practices.

“Good supervision does take time, and it takes the GP away from seeing patients as they support another doctor to orientate them into the Australian healthcare system.

“A lot of the doctors participating in these programs, their primary degree has been obtained overseas.

“The Australian healthcare system and Medicare is very different [from other systems across the world] and it does take time to learn.

“With the increased investment in supervision, payments and support, it may provide a more attractive option for some practices to participate in this program.”

Professor Clemens agreed that the increased subsidies for supervision were a plus.

“The increased payments for Level 1 Supervision of GPs in training is definitely a positive.

“Effective GP Supervision underpins these programs.

“Recognition of the value they provide is fully warranted and welcome.”

Every six months, participants on the program will be assessed on their readiness for fellowship training, with the aim of increasing the efficiency of the transition and seeing more doctors progress to specialist training faster.

Ms Rutherford said RDAA would be keeping a close eye on the program and whether it was successfully helping doctors progress to training programs in remote and rural areas.

“[In rural and remote areas] we’ve relied on overseas trained doctors, and they’ve been fantastic,” she said.

“But what we would like to really focus on now is positive policy that attracts both domestic graduates as well as overseas trained graduates because they come to rural because that’s where they want to work, not when they’re forced to work.”

The pilot will be delivered by Rural Workforce Agencies, which will also support doctors as they transition from the pre-fellowship to fellowship programs.

The grant opportunity was originally announced as part of the 2023-24 budget as part of the Strengthening Medicare Initiative.

Guidelines for the program can be found here.

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