In this year’s Federal Budget, the Government announced that it will cut the number of visas for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) by 200 a year to boost funding to rural medical schools. The program promises to be a long-term solution that will encourage Australia’s medical graduates to work in rural areas.
Martina Stanley, Alecto’s Director, told The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) in a recent article that Australia will simply not have enough GPs to service the millions of people living in rural areas if the Government restricts the number of IMGs that can work in Australia.
She says the decision is based on a hopeful ideal, which sometimes is not enough.
The current shortage
While the number of medical graduates has spiked, the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) GPs has increased by just 1.6%. A new Department of Health report revealed that, in WA alone, there was a shortfall of 534 practitioners in 2015 and warned that the figure will nearly double by 2025.
The report says the shortage is due to an ageing workforce that’s being replaced by millennials who are opting for a better work-life balance and want to work in the best suburbs, despite outer metro and rural areas suffering a shortage and wealthy suburbs experiencing an oversupply.
Studies show that many doctors want to stay close to cities because of the lack of work opportunities for spouses and schooling options for kids in rural areas.
At Alecto, we haven’t had one locally-trained GP apply for positions in Melbourne’s western suburbs in the last three years.
Who’s filling the gap?
The demand for rural GPs has been largely met by IMGs who are required to practice in rural areas for up to 10 years: more than 40% of GPs in rural Australia are trained overseas. That 40% will need to be replaced by Australian Medical Graduates.
“What we’re seeing is that small rural general practices are coming under financial pressure because they’re small and they’re also finding it harder and harder to recruit doctors,” Co-founder of Ochre Health Medical Centres Dr Ross told the ABC in May.
Demand and no supply
Dr George Alhorani, a Wollongong-based doctor who trained in Jordan, spent seven years in rural Tasmania upon arriving in Australia.
‘[Cutting visas] is the most unwise decision the [Department of Health] and our government will take,’ he told newsGP.
‘If they do that, in two years we will not find any doctors to work after-hours or on weekends and public holidays. Australian graduates will not work these hours.’
Dr Alhorani said local graduates don’t want to work in medical centres in Western Sydney. He concluded that reducing the number of visas available for IMGs will make the health system collapse in lower socio-economic and rural areas—the places we need it the most.