A key rural health workforce program that enables nursing and dental students and trainee doctors to train in regional and rural Australia is being extended for another three years by the NSW Nationals in the federal government.
Federal Nationals Regional Health Minister, Dr David Gillespie, said the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program provides high-quality clinical rural training experiences for students in a range of career paths including GPs, nurses, dentists, and allied health professionals.
The program is another way the NSW Nationals in the federal government are working to address the shortage of medical, nursing and allied health practitioners in rural locations.
Dr Gillespie said the 20-year-old RHMT program was continuing to drive a shift in health and medical education and training in regional and rural Australia.
“The program has supported more than 31,000 short-term to year-long rural medical placements over the past five years,” Dr Gillespie said.
“Before the Government’s intervention to create a university-led rural training network, most of the training across health disciplines was concentrated in the major metropolitan teaching hospitals.
“Students had limited exposure to the delivery of primary care or to more generalist models of providing health services and care to rural communities, which made it more difficult for people to study and train in our regions, and in turn choose to practice out of the major cities.
“With three out of every 10 medical and nursing students now of rural origin, it’s imperative to ensure students can train in the regions, where they are offered high-quality and hands-on training.”
Dr Gillespie said the decision to extend the program for a further three years reiterated the government’s ongoing commitment to the health and wellbeing of country Australians by adding another measure to address health workforce shortages in the bush.
“Teaching innovation has been a hallmark of the RHMT program,” Dr Gillespie said.
“It has demonstrated that universities can be supported to deliver tertiary-level teaching and training to health students in regional and rural settings to an equivalent or higher standard than that of metropolitan settings.”
Dr Gillespie said the health needs of rural communities were changing with an ageing population, and increased prevalence and complexity of chronic disease.
“With this, changing models of care and approaches to service delivery are required,” he said.
“Ongoing enhancement to the RHMT program, as recommended in the recent evaluation of the program, will ensure it continues to go from strength to strength in helping to prepare the future health workforce for this changing rural health environment.”
The NSW Nationals in the federal government have funded 21 universities under the program to build a network of 19 Rural Clinical Schools and 16 University Departments of Rural Health. This means medical and health students in locations as diverse as Burnie, Tamworth, Orange, Warrnambool, Geraldton, Mount Isa, Tennant Creek and Whyalla can study and train.
Funding agreements with universities under the RHMT program expire on 31 December 2021. To enable the three-year extension to proceed, a grant opportunity will be run for the 21 universities that currently participate in the RHMT program.