Making room for interns

SOME years ago, when Australia started to get serious about tackling its shortage of doctors, the nation dramatically increased the number of students in medical schools.

In 2005, there were 502 medical school graduates in NSW. Less than 10 years later, that number has more than doubled to 1050. Like any piece of social engineering, this intervention had consequences in other areas.

Increasing doctor numbers, for example, also tends to increase the total sum expended on medical care, as more doctors drive demand for diagnostic and other services.

Another consequence has been the pressure placed on the state’s teaching hospitals. These institutions, by definition, perform the vital role of training health professionals. Graduates and trainees are taught, on the job, by more experienced practitioners.

The problem is those seasoned practitioners have equally important roles caring for public hospital patients. There is a limit to the time that supervisors can spend training registrars and interns and there is a limit to the number of L-plate doctors that trainers can supervise.

Push the system too hard, and a health system can put the accredited teaching status of its hospitals at risk.

Hence the present problem of too many medical graduates chasing too few public hospital internships. Across Australia about 495 would-be interns (from a graduate output of about 3000) face the prospect of no training position in this country.

Many will be obliged to seek internships overseas, unless some onshore solution can be found.

Past experience suggests solutions to this issue involve some give and take among a variety of groups.

The federal government sets the number of medical school places, but state governments provide internships. These internships, however, can’t be created instantly. Each hospital has different circumstances and external accreditation bodies also have some say.

It seems a shame for Australia to lose the services of expensively trained medical graduates, especially when many parts of the country – including the Hunter – are still in the grip of a shortage of medical practitioners.

Some have suggested creating more internships in such areas as general practice and in some private hospitals.

Creative solutions to the internship problem need to be found, so this costly resource isn’t simply wasted.

Hunter’s Glory Days

THE Hunter Region has seen its share of ‘‘glory days’’ – occasions that punctuate history with a resonance that reaches across generations.

In this newspaper today a free magazine celebrates 101 of these great events in the life of the Hunter.

From the joyous scenes that marked the end of great wars, to the smaller triumphs of life in fields as varied as music, sport, business and art, The Hunter, Glory Days takes readers on a journey of discovery, recollection and pride.

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