More medical student graduates choosing general practice in rural areas

New data released this week shows the numbers of medical student graduates preferencing their desire to become a rural GP is increasing.
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Data released this week by Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand (Medical Deans) revealed a growing interest from medical graduates in pursuing a career as a rural generalist.

The discipline jumped to rank as the sixth highest choice for the Australian medical students who graduated in 2023, with seven per cent of respondents to Medical Dean’s annual survey of graduating students expressing this preference.

Interest in a rural career also continues to be strong, with 32 per cent of respondents indicating a preference to work in a non-metropolitan area. Coming from a rural background and spending more of their course learning in a rural environment were associated with this difference.

“The data supports the drive and investment to enable students to study and learn in the regions where we need them and where they want to be, with many more of our students now able to undertake their whole or substantial periods of their medical program in regional and rural areas,” says President of Medical Deans, Professor Michelle Leech AM.

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Of those MSOD respondents who undertook a rural placement of more than a year’s duration, 34 per cent expressed a preference for practice in a rural town or remote community.

“The MSOD data supports what we hear from our students that these positive and valuable learning experiences have a strong impact and play a key role in encouraging them to consider the rewards that come from a rural career,” Professor Leech says.

The 2024 Medical Schools Outcomes Database (MSOD) Report also revealed that General Practice remains graduates’ most preferred specialty, with the proportion of students considering rural generalism increasing to seven per cent.

Key points of interest in the Report:

  • A continuing strong interest from graduates in pursuing a career based outside a capital city
  • 32 per cent of respondents indicated a preference for a career working outside a metropolitan area
  • Students from a rural background expressed higher levels of desire to practice in rural or regional locations
  • Of those students undertaking a rural placement of more than a year, 34 per cent expressed a preference for practice in a large, medium or small rural town, or remote/very remote community
  • The comparative figures are 23 per cent for those where the duration was six to 12 months, 13 per cent where it was up to six months, and nine per cent for those not undertaking a rural placement
  • Members of a university Rural Health Club were four times more likely to express a preference for a future practice outside a capital city.
  • 35 per cent of respondents from rural backgrounds had a preference to work in a large, medium or small rural town, or remote/very remote community versus seven per cent of respondents from a non-rural background as a part of their future medical career
  • 79 per cent indicated they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their medical program. The proportion ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘highly dissatisfied’ was nine per cent
  • 81 per cent ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ their medical degree was preparing them well to work as an intern, which is a slight increase from last year, and five per cent saying they ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’

More rural GPs still needed

Professor Leech says “given the long list of possible future careers to choose from, it is encouraging that specialising in General Practice has been the most popular for the last few years, outranking physician and surgical training and other disciplines”.

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“Certainly, from the perspective of absolute numbers, we need an even higher proportion of the graduating cohort to pursue general practice training, but this is where experience in the early years of practice as a junior doctor is crucial,” he says.

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