Junior doctors in regional and rural Australia are more likely to be satisfied than their metropolitan counterparts, according to research from the University of NSW, with a better work-life balance and more varied work among the main factors.
Lead author Matthew Lennon, a doctor in Wagga Wagga, NSW, said the findings had important lessons for attracting doctors to regions.
"Junior doctors are in a critical period where they are deciding on a route of specialty training and forming lifelong relationships - so knowing what they're happy and unhappy about at that stage in their career could help inform recruitment strategies," he said.
Using the Medicine in Australia: Balancing Life and Employment survey, the researchers examined 4581 doctors in their first four years after graduation.
"Compared to their metropolitan counterparts, rural doctors were more positive about their work-life balance, the amount of variety in their work, access to leave and leisure activities, and personal study time," Dr Lennon said.
"An important part of this we think is that in smaller hospitals, junior doctors often work directly with supervising consultants and get the opportunity to perform tasks under supervision which are often reserved for specialist trainees at other hospitals."
Dr Lennon said the findings were surprising.
"That rural junior doctors are more positive about lifestyle and access to leisure activities was not something we were anticipating," he said.
"We think that it relates to the reduced travel times, costs of living and the simpler management structures seen in smaller towns and health services.
"To help build a strong future rural medical workforce, we also need to mitigate any perceived weaknesses by strengthening specialist mentorship and peer networks, and by improving social, employment and educational opportunities for families."
One person who would agree is fifth-year medical student Kate Sharley, who was named medical student of the year at the Rural Doctors Association of Australia conference last month, after spending 2019 on clinical placements in Whyalla, Port Augusta and Roxby Downs.
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Her time at Whyalla has included a placement with the Nunyara Aboriginal Health Service as well as the local hospital.
In the past few years, she has also undertaken placements at Mount Sheridan, Qld, and Cairns, Qld, through the John Flynn Placement Program Scholarship, spent a day travelling to remote communities with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and travelled to Alice Springs, NT, with a visiting paediatric cardiologist for a specialist clinic.
The University of Adelaide student had pushed for a rural rotation, hearing they were the "best place to learn".
"You get that hands-on experience and one-to-one teaching," she said.
"In city and hospital systems it can be easy to fly under the radar but being in country areas you find people are a bit more relaxed and willing to dedicate the time to teach and patients are more willing."
She said the work-life balance was also good, with sport at Whyalla helping her settle into the community.
"I really enjoyed being a part of country sport this year and found this a great way to keep fit, have a break from study and to meet new people in the community" she said.
Ms Sharley is still yet to decide on the exact path for her medical career but hopes to do more training as a junior doctor with regional placements, and has a strong interest in becoming a rural generalist doctor with advanced skills in Indigenous health and women's health.
Helping her win the award, which was also won by her sister Laura in 2014, Ms Sharley was involved in the university's rural health club, and coordinated the Kidney Health Festival in Yatala, as well as a similar program in the Aangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, in 2018.
Ms Sharley will spend next year on rotations in Adelaide, London and Darwin and was particularly keen to learn about renal health in the NT.
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