Encouraging and supporting doctors to work in rural Australia

rural, doctor, doctors, barriers, retention, retain, recruit

Attracting and keeping doctors in rural and regional Australia has been a challenge for many years.

There are numerous research papers that highlight the various issues that keep doctors from choosing a rural location.

In response, government funding has been provided to introduce programs that encourage medical students and junior doctors to work and live rurally.

Programs that target medical students and junior doctors originally from rural areas and encourage them to return to their hometown or another rural area after medical school have had good success.  As well, long term placement programs offering a taste of rural life to medical students have provided insight into working and living in a rural community.

Despite these initiatives there are still gaps in attracting and retaining doctors. A recent review conducted by the Australian National University (ANU) Medical School has shed new light on the importance of broadening the focus for recruitment to include students and junior doctors from all backgrounds while addressing the barriers that exist to medical students and junior doctors making the choice to go rural and stay rural.

Patrick Holloway, lead author said, “We found that the barriers that prevent doctors from going rural are primarily personal or family driven. They range from a poor perception of rural life through to employment opportunities for their partners and schooling options for their children. A lack of access to local training and professional support also factors in.”

“If initiatives directed at supporting the family dynamic were introduced this may encourage more doctors to consider working rurally.”

“For those who do make the move to rural, what can stop them from staying is the lack of work/life balance with many suffering burnout and mental health issues. In a small community, a doctor may view them self as having to always be available in their role as doctor.”

“Supporting our doctors to set up boundaries between work and private life and encouraging them to become part of the community beyond being the doctor could improve the retention of doctors in rural Australia.”

Read more about the findings and recommendations from the review.