Just what we don’t need! Another medical school

4 minute read

A feasibility study is announced for a new four-year post-graduate medical degree at CQU's Rockhampton and Bundaberg campuses

Central Queensland University’s plan to open a new medical school has met with a chilly reception from medical students and senior doctors alike.

CQU has announced a feasibility study into a new four-year post-graduate medical degree at its Rockhampton and Bundaberg campuses, saying the “absolute best case scenario” would see the first students begin training in 2021.

Vice-Chancellor Scott Bowman had written to the Australian Medical Council regarding the plan for an “innovative” medical course in partnership with the Central Queensland and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Services, the university said.

Professor Bowman pointed to the success of James Cook University, which has campuses in Townsville and Cairns, in training doctors for rural careers.

“We know if you look at the experience of JCU about 80% of the doctors in north and far north Queensland who are trained up there stay up there,” he said.

“We want our people to be able to train as doctors and deliver their skills to our local communities.”

The Australian Medical Students Association slammed the plan as selfish and wasteful, arguing resources should go into fixing the bottleneck in rural training positions.

AMSA’s Rural Health Committee challenged the Queensland and federal governments to block all of the new medical school proposals on the table at present.

They point out that medical graduate numbers already exceed training places overall, and in  the rural sphere existing federally funded rural clinical schools are operating in the proposed locations.

“Along with Charles Sturt, La Trobe, and Macquarie, yet another university is selfishly ignoring the message that Australia is currently producing too many medical students, and the evidence that an increase in student numbers is not translating to more rural doctors,” AMSA rural health co-chair Nic Batten said.

The University of Queensland Rural Clinical School was already training medical students with the Central Queensland Health Service at Rockhampton, the Wide Bay Health Service at Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and the Darling Downs Health Service at Toowoomba.

“What will happen to these students and their opportunities for rural training if the new medical school is allowed to proceed?” she asked.

Dr Ruth Stewart, president of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, said medical education was already a “very crowded space”.

“The philosophy of rurally embedded medical training is a good one, but we’ve got enough medical schools,” she said.

“They are doing a feasibility study; it will be interesting to see what that shows and to make sure it is clear and transparent.”

According to the CQU outline, early estimates would involve 20 to 30 medical students at the Rockhampton and Bundaberg campuses doing a four-year medical degree, on top of a three-year course in medical science or another related discipline.

Days earlier, an AMA Medical Workforce and Training Summit reaffirmed that new medical schools were not part of the answer to resolving health disparities.

“The take home message from the day was that Australia does not need any more medical school places,” AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said after the March 3 summit.

“There was a clear recognition that the focus needs to shift away from pumping more students into medical schools towards giving medical students more opportunities to train in rural areas, as well as delivering postgraduate training places in the areas and specialties where they are needed.

“We need smarter policies than we have seen from governments in the past. All too often, the opening of a new medical school, or importing more doctors from overseas, is seen as the solution to our medical workforce needs.

“This mindset is driven by short-term political needs, rather than the long-term health needs of our communities.”

AMSA’s Ms Batten said many Queensland students, from rural and urban backgrounds, wanted to become rural doctors, but the training bottleneck hampered their ability to continue their careers in the country.

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