Extra rural faculties needed to support country GPs

29 July 2020

Increasing Australia’s medical rural faculties may help grow and sustain the number of general practitioners (GPs) in country and remote regions, according to Queensland researchers.

In the first study of its kind, The University of Queensland Rural Clinical School found faculties solely focused on delivering rural medical training had better distribution of doctors in small and isolated communities.

Head of UQ Regional Training Hub Research, Associate Professor Matthew McGrail said researchers found doctors who were part of a faculty also practiced advanced skills, such as obstetrics, making them rural generalists.

“The link between being a faculty member and advanced medical skills suggested rural faculties may be useful in engaging country GPs, and tailoring the right type of training and professional support to them,” Associate Professor McGrail said.

The study analysed the characteristics, skills and distribution of doctors connected to a rural faculty, compared with non-faculty member GPs, using 2008-2017 data from the Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) longitudinal survey.

Associate Professor McGrail said preparing GPs for rural practice needed to accommodate a wider skill set during training.

“Our data suggested this would make a real difference to rural doctors, and help build the rural workforce,” he said.

“We can’t just put doctors into rural practice and expect them to flourish. Instead, we need to provide them with the right training and ongoing professional support to give them the best possible start to their careers.”

Australia currently has two national rural medical faculties: the Fellowship in Advanced Rural General Practice (FARGP) and the Fellowship of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (FACRRM).

UQ Regional Training Hub Researcher Dr Belinda O’Sullivan said previous studies showed some doctors who practiced in small rural communities felt isolated and had higher work demands.

“Creating more rural faculties would ensure clinicians practicing in small and isolated communities were supported by a professional community of like-minded individuals who could help them problem solve and share innovations,” she said.

“More rural faculties would also build medical services in our regions and provide extra care needed by rural communities, such as emergency services.

“Rural faculties could also be adapted to different colleges for physicians, surgeons and other specialties. This would help foster specialties poorly distributed in rural areas.”

This paper was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  (DOI: 10.3390/ijerph17134652)