The med student plan to save general practice

4 minute read

Members of the Australian Medical Students Association have come up with a 15-point plan to reignite interest in general practice.

Pushing universities to employ more GPs as teachers, creating prizes for students who excel in GP-related subjects and enabling GP registrars to claim the teaching allowance are all initiatives the Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) believes will boost general practice numbers.  

AMSA detailed these ideas, among others, in a roundtable discussion attended by Health Minister Mark Butler, department of health representatives, the medical deans association and ACRRM, RACGP and RDAA presidents in August.  

The resulting report, released this week, contains 15 recommendations for the government, university sector and specialist colleges that could help reignite interest in general practice at medical school level.  

“Some people are treating these [GP recruitment] issues as wicked problems and too difficult to fix, but from the roundtable we really found that there were a lot of solutions,” AMSA president Jasmine Davis told The Medical Republic.  

“It’s just about making sure that we prioritise them and put investment into them.” 

The recommendations come with the caveat that they will be relatively useless if just taken on their own and without significant improvements to the funding of general practice.  

One of the most interesting things to come out of the roundtable discussion, Ms Davis said, was learning that GP registrars currently aren’t allowed to claim the Practice Incentive Payment – Teaching Payment.  

In the hospital system, medical students are regularly mentored by junior doctors and registrars, given that they tend to be more available.   

“GP registrars just aren’t able to teach and get paid for it,” Ms Davis said.  

“I think if we’re able to do that, it would not only increase the teaching capacity we have in general practices – which would mean more students could go on placement – but I think it would also incentivise people to go into GP registrar roles if they saw it as a career where you could also have that teaching element.”  

Another of AMSA’s suggested initiatives would see government-funded positions for final and penultimate year medical students to work as assistants in general practice. 

At the university level, Ms Davis said she would like to see more GP academics employed as teaching staff. 

“We don’t necessarily need to be taught about heart attacks from someone who is a very niche cardiothoracic surgeon,” she said.  

“We can be taught that by a GP or an emergency doctor, someone with generalist skills.”  

The idea behind this is to raise the profile of general practice by showing students the importance and diversity of the profession, and reducing the stigma attached to the specialty by the hospital-centric medical education model.  

Another small but practical initiative AMSA recommends in this vein is creating academic prizes for students who excel in GP-related assessment or complete generalist-aligned research.  

“Given the negative discourse surrounding a career in general practice, it is vital that medical schools actively counteract this by implicitly and explicitly improving the prestige of general practice through awards and academic prizes,” the report says.  

“Not only will this encourage academically excellent students to pursue a career in general practice, it promotes the notion that general practice is a prestigious career within medicine.” 

Ms Davis said AMSA is already working closely with the medical deans association to work out a system of goals or KPIs that medical schools could use to score themselves on how well they are recruiting students interested in becoming generalists.  

Recommendations for the GP colleges focus on incorporating and incentivising medical student teaching and research within the GP trainee curriculum.  

The student association specifically recommends facilitating additional summer placements, elective placements or research opportunities for medical students to help expose them to general practice.

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