Postgraduate medical placements in rural areas: their impact on the rural medical workforce.Rural Remote Health. 2006 Apr-Jun; 6(2):481.RR
In 1988, the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Health developed the NSW Rural Resident Medical Officer Cadetship Program (Cadetship Program) to help overcome a junior doctor workforce shortage in rural hospitals. A second aim was to increase recruitment to the rural medical workforce on the basis that positive exposure to rural medicine increases the likelihood of choosing to practice in a rural location. The Cadetship Program offers bonded scholarships which provide financial support for residents of NSW studying medicine during the final 2 years of their medical degree. In return, cadets are contracted to complete 2 of their first 3 postgraduate years in the NSW rural hospital network. NSW Rural Doctors Network has managed the Cadetship Program for the NSW Department of Health since 1993, and carried out an evaluation in 2004. The purpose of this evaluation was to track the career choice and practice location of medical students entering the Cadetship Program before 1999, and to comment on the impact of the Program on the rural medical workforce in NSW to date, and its implications for the future workforce.
The career choice and practice locations of 107 medical students who received cadetships between 1989 and 1998 were tracked. Students who did not graduate from medical school (n = 3) or who did not complete their rural service (13) were excluded from the analysis. Career choice was not available for a further nine former cadets and they were also excluded from the analysis. The NSW Rural Doctors Network was the major source of data on career choice and practice location due to its role in administering the Cadetship Program on behalf of the NSW Department of Health. Two brief questionnaires targeting specific groups of cadets were used to fill knowledge gaps about where cadets grew up, what vocational training they undertook, and where they were working in 2004. Where this information was not obtained from cadets first hand, it was sourced from the CD-ROM version of the Medical Directory of Australia.
Forty-three percent of cadets entering the Program before 1999 were working in rural locations in 2004 (compared with 20.5% of medical practitioners nationally), 46% had attended primary school in a rural location and 44% chose to specialize in general practice. Career choice was the major determinant of practice location. Having a rural background did not appear to influence practice location; whereas, those specialising in general practice made up 70% of this cohort of cadets working in rural areas. All general practice trainees were in rural locations compared with only two of the 25 trainee specialists, which reflects the availability of accredited training places in rural Australia.
The Cadetship Program, which ensures junior doctors work for 2 of their first 3 postgraduate years in a rural allocation centre, is an effective link between medical school and rural practice, particularly rural general practice. Providing vocational training opportunities in rural locations is central to this success, and needs to be considered in efforts to expand the rural specialist workforce, and in ensuring rural health capitalises on the increasing number of medical students moving through the education and training system in the next 4-10 years.