Respiratory physician weighs in on bush doctor drought


By Tessa Hoffman

15 May 2018

State governments could attract specialist doctors to rural areas by offering superior working conditions – such as bespoke public-private appointments, extra leave entitlements and priority access to training, a respiratory physician suggests.

Federal AMA vice presidential election candidate Dr Chris Zappala says medical workforce issues – such as under and oversupply and maldistribution – are among the most pressing concerns facing the healthcare system today, but the federal government’s attempts to solve them by “flooding the market with doctors” has not worked.

“We need a much more honed and thoughtful strategy,” he told the limbic.

The relative under supply of specialists in regional areas and oversupply in cities is seen across many specialties such as neurology where cities like Hobart and Darwin have made headlines for having to hire fly-in-fly-out consultants to meet need.

Dr Zappala said the Federal Government does not generate a detailed report of the respiratory medicine workforce, but he suspects the maldistribution situation is similar.

He says the answer is not to train more respiratory physicians “because at the end of the day you don’t want doctors having to scratch each other’s eyes out for a living or sitting there idle”.

Instead federal and state governments should be working together to create jobs in the bush that are too good to refuse, he says.

“If people want to have a private practice you help them. You don’t just shove them into a 1.0 FTE public job and grind them into dust and say ‘there you go we have got a respiratory physician’, and then of course they get terribly unhappy and after a year or two they leave,” he says.

“For example, you give them industrial recognition, the MBS schedule reflects that isolation better.

“You take care of family, schooling, you give them a little bit of a bump with their leave allowances. Give them preferential access to training.

“You design, for example, a public-private job from the get-go. You say ‘we will offer 0.5 FTE’ and speak to a group of colleagues and ask if they can incorporate that person into their practice as a 0.5 FTE.

“If you do a joint private-public partnership, all of a sudden that becomes a whole lot more attractive for someone who doesn’t think they are just going to have to pedal really hard in the public system.”

If elected, he says his other priorities will include doctors’ health and wellbeing across the workspan and a digital strategy to better connect members to the AMA.

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