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Flinders University hopes to address regional doctor shortages with new training program

Flinders University hopes training more GPs in the Riverland will address shortages.  (ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook )

Flinders University is launching a new regional doctor training program which will bring much-needed trainees to South Australia's Riverland, Mallee and Coorong regions. 

The regional hub will be set up across the university's sites at Renmark, Berri and Murray Bridge and will allow doctors to train as either GP generalists or specialists in the region. 

The university is hopeful it will lead to more doctors choosing to stay in the region, or to move to other parts of rural SA. 

Flinders already offers opportunities for medical students to spend one year studying and completing placements in the Riverland. 

The new program will also support the newly-formed Riverland Academy of Clinical Excellence, an SA Health initiative which allows medical students to work in the region during their training and studies. 

Flinders University Dean of Rural and Remote Health Robyn Aitken wants medical trainees to stay on in the regions.  (Supplied: Flinders University)

Dean of Rural and Remote Health Robyn Aitken said similar programs across the country showed if students studied in regions, they would stay and work in that area. 

She said the hub would work with the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network to establish training pathways that allowed for GP generalist training and GP specialist training.

"It's so you might also be able to train as a GP obstetrician, an anaesthetist or in mental health, actually in a rural area," she said.

Doctor 'distribution' a problem

The Liberal Party has promised $1 million for the program if it wins this month's federal election as part of a $3.9 million funding pledge for similar rural medical training initiatives. 

Professor Aitken said while the funding would allow the program to get under way faster, the university already had plans in place and would push ahead regardless of the election result. 

The university expects about 30 students and GPs will be studying or working in the region at any one time through it's training pathways. 

Like many regional areas, the Riverland has a shortage of doctors and health professionals.  (Flickr: Alex Proimos)

Barker Liberal MP Tony Pasin said the issue of regional doctor shortages was "devilishly difficult" and there was no "silver bullet". 

"What we know is that we need more doctors practising in the regions," Mr Pasin said.

"We don't have a doctor shortage in Australia, what we have is a GP distribution problem."

He said too many doctors were centred in capitals and major regional centres.

"There's no single measure, but this is an important step," Mr Pasin said.

"Flinders University has real runs on the board when it comes to training young people to become rural generalists and work in the regions." 

Labor health spokesperson Mark Butler has been contacted for comment. 

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Dive Deeper:
How rural Canada can attract and retain international health-care providers: Address discrimination, provide support
Smaller communities in Canada, particularly those located in rural areas, find it difficult to attract and especially retain health-care professionals,…
Doctors trained abroad want to see you now
It took 11 years for Vladislav Zimin to complete his training in Russia to become an interventional cardiologist, a specialist…
Health sector 'completely congested' as emergency wait times blow out
Victorian Ambulance Union secretary says “the smaller country towns are actually the ones that suffer the most".
GP Access is effective, efficient, economical and saves Australia's health system millions
A new level of federal-state collaboration is needed to keep this crucial service.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Labor promises almost $1 billion for Medicare and GPs if it wins federal election
Federal Labor is entering the election campaign home stretch armed with a promise of almost $1 billion in new Medicare…
Demand for animal-assisted services grows, with pony time helping Owen relax, use sign language, slow down
Demand for animal-assisted services is growing across Australia and the benefits are being felt by a preschooler with Down syndrome…
Get all your news in one place