View From the Paddock: Doctor shortage more than a health issue

By Michael Reinke
Updated May 1 2022 - 2:34am, first published 1:00am
Michael Reinke, president, Rural Doctors Association of Queensland

If you or a loved one gets sick and need to see a doctor you would rightly expect to be able to, except perhaps if you live in the Queensland bush.

There is growing community concern around the acute, ongoing shortage of doctors and nurses in rural and remote Queensland, which can have devastating impacts not only on the wellbeing of individuals but also the health of their communities in general.



As rural residents, we are all aware of the challenges we face when trying to make appointments with a general practitioner and we did not need to wait for the results of the recent Senate inquiry to confirm that we have a serious issue.

As we head towards the federal election, our communities are looking for reassurance that the rural general practice crisis will be addressed. Rural residents do not want to see short term solutions to our long-term problems.

Put simply, our problem is not so much a shortage of doctors but rather a maldistribution. There are more than enough doctors in the city but nowhere near enough in rural areas.

The current band-aid solution of recruiting overseas doctors and locking them out of the city for 10 years only buys us a temporary reprieve.

While we owe a great debt to those doctors who have been the backbone of rural medicine for years, many move to the city after their 10 years is up.

One of the biggest challenges facing our rural general practices is their viability as small businesses. Since the Medicare freeze in 2013-2014, rural general practices have struggled to remain profitable.

Now, we find that as our rural GPs approach retiring age, many of these practices cannot be sold and simply shut down.

This is more than a healthcare issue alone.

We know that the health and wellbeing of individuals has a domino effect on the health of our regional economies.

And outside of local government, the health sector is the largest employer in Queensland's regional and remote towns.

We know that recruiting our future rural health professionals from rural communities, results in a larger number returning to rural Australia to work after they graduate.

We also know that training interns and junior doctors in rural settings results in more considering a career in rural medicine.

The solutions are there - what we need is the strong leadership and proper investment to make them a reality.

- Michael Reinke, rural doctor


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