A school in regional Western Australia is seeing students return to work as medical professionals in the regions during a time when the state’s health system is under extreme pressure.
- A unique school medical program is combating regional workforce shortages
- WA’s medical system has been under significant pressure since the start of COVID-19
- The Rural Doctors Association said the school program could be replicated in other regions
There has been huge demand on health services in WA since COVID-19 started, exacerbated by a lack of interstate and international workers.
But Manea Senior College in Bunbury, 170 kilometres south of Perth, is combating the shortages by running a first-of-its-kind health and medical specialist program.
The program started in 2013 and sees students get hands-on experience in remote Aboriginal communities, nursing homes, general practices, hospitals, and other medical environments.
Peter Thompson, who has been teaching the program for several years, said the goal “is to get students to return to the region’s or even go remote.”
Mr Thompson said the program had already proven a success, with students going on to become chiropractors, nurses and more.
“In the current COVID-19 climate, hospitals especially are under pressure,” he said.
“If we could encourage students to go into the medical or health professions, then that’s great.”
‘I want to return to the country’
Former student Travis Papalia is in his final year studying a Doctor of Medicine at the University of WA.
He said if it weren’t for the program, he wouldn’t have had the confidence to go into medicine.
“People in rural areas don’t necessarily have the connections to get those placements as a young adult,” Mr Papalia said.
“Once I was actually in training, I had the previous experience of being on placements and the previous experience of talking with patients in a medical context.”
Having grown up in the regional community of Collie, in the South West of WA, he said his goal was to end up working in a regional setting.
High-priority vacancies on the rise
In regional areas, attracting and retaining staff has been an ongoing problem.
Statistics from recruitment agency Rural Health West show a slight decrease in vacant positions since pre-pandemic times from 135 down to 127 job vacancies.
But there has been an increase in the number of “high priority” job positions remaining vacant.
Brittney Wicksteed is the president of the Rural Doctors Association and said COVID-19 highlighted the industries reliance on locum doctors and international health professionals.
“There are ongoing shortages in the GP space as well as in the hospitals, so I think we need to attract doctors of all different ranks, of all different specialties back into the country.”
Program key to rebuild regions
She said if a program like that being run in Bunbury was applied to other regional schools it could be key to building a permanent local workforce in the regions.
The State government recently attracted hundreds of junior doctors from the United Kingdom and Ireland to ease pressure on the health system.
It also announced $1.9 billion dollars in the next budget to increase the number of doctors and nurses working in hospitals.