In recent years, the shortage of general practitioners (GPs) has become a growing concern, with a shortfall of over 9,000 GPs predicted in the next decade, according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). This shortage is particularly acute in remote and rural areas, where the populations are ageing, and healthcare services and facilities are limited. This has significant implications for the health and wellbeing of these communities and highlights the urgent need to attract more doctors to take up general practice, especially in remote areas.
Future GPs across Australia shared their recommendations on key solutions that would increase uptake of GP training:
- Increase and improve GP placements, particularly early on in medical students’ careers or medical programs. A study found that positive placement experiences for GP students, regardless of the location, is associated with a greater likelihood of pursuing general practice in the future. Parallel consultations and procedural experiences could both be enhanced within the curriculum and the placements, as these were the most enjoyed aspects of the students’ placements in both the 2009 and 2019 data sets.
- Increase exposure to rural general practice, with more hands-on experience, clear training pathways and mapped solutions to rural medical workforce needs. A study involving University of Queensland medical students, who must complete a six-week placement in a small rural community in their third year, found that 106 students chose to extend their placement, and those who did 12-week placements were three times more likely to work outside major cities.
- Increase the focus on subspecialist and upskilling opportunities within general practice, as supervisors are expressing ‘a desire for more upskilling and professional development to support their retention in the community as they reach mid-career’, this study found.
- Match the financial remuneration of GPs to that of other specialties. A substantial remuneration deficit was the most prevalent concern of the survey participants. Areas of improvement include Medicare reform, and increasing funding for GP services in aged care facilities and for GP-led team-based activities, explains the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
- Facilitate GPs to do more teaching in the medical school curriculum. GPs enjoy teaching and it has been shown that teaching increases morale and encourages them to stay up to date. With these positive benefits, increasing GP teaching in medical education should help retain existing GP teachers and recruit new ones, says the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).
Dr Karyn Matterson, President of General Practice Registrars Australia (GPRA) concludes that Australia needs to “get doctors interested in general practice early in their career – and when they get there, support them in their practice and remunerate them right.”
The next generation of doctors have stepped up and voiced their opinions on what needs to be done to increase GPs across Australia. "What the GPSN results tell me is that general practice has a bright future if we get the reform settings right," says Dr Karyn Matterson.