Listening to the recent ABC Background Briefing documentary on overseas doctors I was struck by the success that Dr. Ayman Shenouda has achieved in attracting other doctors to his community in Wagga Wagga. As a Coptic Christian he, with some colleagues, founded their own church to satisfy a spiritual and community need.
In so doing, intentionally or not, they created a perfect draw card for like-minded doctors to relocate, bringing their skills and their families with them. Voila – instant community and support network! In doctor-starved rural NSW this has made a huge difference to the provision of medical services in the area, and this example is not unique.
Similarly, the Broken Hill mosque, founded by Afghan camel herders in the 19th century has gone on to serve the unforeseen purpose of attracting Muslim doctors to the area. Armidale in NSW also has a mosque on the university campus making this country town a hot spot for overseas clinicians and academics alike.
Even smaller locations like Renmark in South Australia and Ararat in Victoria have mosques, many of which were either founded or are heavily attended by doctors.
All of this goes to highlight the fact that doctors weigh up multiple factors when it comes to deciding whether or not they will take a role in a rural or remote setting. Although money is a consideration it is usually other factors that sway the decision one way or another. The list of questions we get asked is endless:
Can I get decent schooling for my kids?
Is there easy access to the coast or the nearest major city?
What will I do at the weekends?
Can my spouse get work in their profession?
Will my favourite sport or pastime be catered for?
Can I bring my dog/cat/parrot etc?
Will I be safe walking down the street?
Will I have penguins in my garden (yes, these are real questions)?
Fundamentally doctors, like all of us, need to feel a sense of community when they arrive in a strange country to live and work. Workforce planners and employers in rural communities would be well advised to pay heed to these, sometime intangible, aspects of the recruitment process.
For the particularly visionary and proactive, adopting a “build it and they will come…” approach could do much to take your community from an ‘also ran’ in the fierce competition for medical talent, to head of the pack when it comes to attracting doctors from particular religious or cultural communities.
I have seen a number of rural communities plough money into brand spanking new medical centres in an effort to attract doctors, only to see them sit empty for years. Perhaps a new church or mosque might have been a better investment.
Written Dr John Bethell, Director of Wavelength International