Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

It’s more than money: policy options to secure medical specialist workforce for regional centres

Jennifer May A E , Judi Walker B , Mathew McGrail C and Fran Rolley D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A University of Newcastle, Department of Rural Health, Tamworth, NSW 2340, Australia.

B School of Rural Health, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton, Vic. 3168, Australia. Email: judi.walker@monash.edu

C School of Rural Health, Churchill Campus, Monash University, Northways Road, Vic. 3842, Australia. Email: matthew.mcgrail@monash.edu

D Department of Geography and Planning, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia. Email: frolley@une.edu.au

E Corresponding author. Email: Jennifer.may@newcastle.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH16159
Submitted: 18 July 2016  Accepted: 24 October 2016   Published online: 16 December 2016

Abstract

Objectives Regional centres and their rural hinterlands support significant populations of non-metropolitan Australians. Despite their importance in the settlement hierarchy and the key medical services provided from these centres, little research has focused on their issues of workforce supply and long-term service requirements. In addition, they are a critical component of the recent growth of ‘regional’ hub-and-spoke specialist models of service delivery.

Methods The present study interviewed 62 resident specialists in four regional centres, seeking to explore recruitment and retention factors important to their location decision making. The findings were used to develop a framework of possible evidence-informed policies.

Results This article identifies key professional, social and locational factors, several of which are modifiable and amenable to policy redesign, including work variety, workplace culture, sense of community and spousal employment; these factors that can be targeted through initiatives in selection, training and incentives.

Conclusions Commonwealth, state and local governments in collaboration with communities and specialist colleges can work synergistically, with a multiplicity of interdigitating strategies, to ensure a positive approach to the maintenance of a critical mass of long-term rural specialists.

What is known about the topic? Rural origin increases likelihood of long-term retention to rural locations, with rural clinical school training associated with increased rural intent. Recruitment and retention policy has been directed at general practitioners in rural communities, with little focus on regional centres or medical specialists.

What does this study add? Rural origin is associated with regional centre recruitment. Professional, social and locational factors are all moderately important in both recruitment and retention. Specialist medical training for regional centres ideally requires both generalist and subspecialist skills sets. Workforce policy needs to address modifiable factors with four groups, namely commonwealth and state governments, specialist medical colleges and local communities, all needing to align their activities for achievement of long-term medical workforce outcomes.

What are the implications for practitioners? Modifiable factors affecting recruitment and retention must be addressed to support specialist models of care in regional centres. Modifiable factors relate to maintenance of a critical mass of practitioners, training a fit-for-purpose workforce and coordinated effort between stakeholders. Although remuneration is important, the decision to stay relates primarily to non-financial factors.


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