Petition to let bonded doctors switch to shorter contract

3 minute read

Doctors and medical students are calling on the government to be flexible on old bonded medical places


Doctors and medical students are calling on the government to allow people on old bonded medical places to change to new, less-restrictive, contracts

The more flexible 12-month bonded placement contracts were introduced in 2016, but are not available to students and junior doctors who have already signed the contract requiring up to six years in an area of workplace shortage after they had finished their specialist training.

One quarter of all students on a Commonwealth Supported Place have a bonded medical place (BMP), most signing contracts at the age of 17 to 18, which dictate their lives well into their 30s.

Unlike students who signed up for the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship Scheme – also now defunded – the bonded group do not receive any ongoing financial support. And a promised program to support attendance at conferences, and provide online lectures and education was defunded in the 2015 budget.

A petition on, which had over 1300 signatures at the time of writing, says the limitation can be constraining both personally and for a doctor’s career.

“It is a huge commitment that will have significant personal and professional implications several years into the future – often at a time when participants will have to factor partner and family needs into their practice and training location decisions,” the petition says.

Final-year student Sophie Alpen, co-chair of AMSA’s rural health committee, said that the BMP contract she signed as an 18-year-old stunted the development of doctors personally and professionally.

“When I took it, I took it genuinely wanting to work in rural medicine,” she said.

“They give you information about the contract, but I don’t think you really understand at that point. I thought 16 years [to complete the contract] was plenty of time.”

“You only realise how limiting the contract is later.”

Ms Alpen said she still wanted to work in rural medicine, but being forced into it and adding to the pressure of a regular medical degree was a turn off for many.

If a student wanted to specialise in something that took longer than a few years, “you’re taking a gamble”, she said. This doesn’t leave much leeway for failing exams, or even pursuing further education such as a masters or double degree.

Classmates and colleagues had broken up with partners, or had to deal with relocating young families, she said.

AMSA president, Elise Buisson, said a lot of people were choosing to buy out their contracts, “which is a strong price signal that it’s not working out”.

June 2015 senate estimates showed that 307 individuals had paid the money back to the Commonwealth, to the tune of $100,000, she said.

But even if the government wouldn’t allow people on the previous contract to transfer to the 12-month scheme, Ms Alpen said she hoped a longer maximum training period could be negotiated.

As well, an educational support program should be reintroduced, which was an opportunity to be part of a community of students and doctors working towards the same goal.

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