Last year, the Australian Government announced it was scrapping the Prevocational General Practice Placements Program (PGPPP) for training medical students in a rural environment. Fortunately, the University of Wollongong is bucking the trend, and its own rural placement program is reaping rewards in rural, regional and outback Australia.
The Department of Health announcement to cease PGPPP operations at the start of 2015 was based on demand for placements outstripping supply of available positions. Rural medical practitioners were outraged at the move, with many people believing the attraction by students to rural medical practice should have been seen as a cause for celebration rather than an excuse to terminate the program.
Ian Kamerman, president of the Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia, presented his understanding in the Medical Journal of Australia after last year’s announcement, when he stated, “With the dismantling of general practice education and training from the end of 2014, rural practices and medical graduates need clarity as to how rurally-based GP training will be undertaken going forward,”
Fortunately, the government’s backflip hasn’t stopped University of Wollongong students fulfilling their rural dreams. UOW is the only Australian medical school where all students have the opportunity to undertake long-term rural placements, and the results are heartening.
The placements are the perfect way to prepare students for ongoing practice in rural and remote Australia, and according to associate professor David Garne, who is overseeing clinical placements, “It also gives students the opportunity to become immersed in a medical environment, allowing for continuity of patient contact, which is an ideal environment for learning about the management of chronic disease.”
Kaitlin Faulkner, a medical student at UOW, is a typical example of career growth that can be expected from the rural placements program. Now in the final year of her double degree program, Kaitlin has been completing her rural clinical placement in Nowra for the past twelve months.
“I love the people – the doctors I have learnt from have amazing life experience. The students I have become friends with are all inspiring people … every day the patients teach me something new about life.” Kaitlin said.
Several studies have revealed that rural placements have encouraged medical students to practice in rural, regional and outback Australia, making the government’s decision to scrap the Department of Health program difficult to comprehend. For decades we have heard about the compromised quality and longer waiting times in rural Australian hospitals, plus a decline in the number of private practices. Although the PGPPP has been stopped, the Graduate School of Medicine at UOW was established with the intent of increasing the number of medical practitioners in rural Australia, and the program appears to be paying dividends.