GP workforce to grow thanks to new recruits
James Cook University (JCU) will support 102 new General Practitioner (GP) registrars commencing specialty training as they hit the ground running in regional, rural and remote communities across Queensland.
The experienced doctors will embark on the next stage of their training to refine their skills as rural GPs and Rural Generalists through programs run by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) that are facilitated in partnership with JCU.
JCU General Practice and Rural Medicine Principal Medical Educator, Associate Professor Paula Heggarty said the new registrars would bolster the GP workforce.
‘‘These Registrars will bolster GP numbers across hospitals, general practices and primary health care and Aboriginal Controlled Community health centres across the Cape York and Northern, Western, Coastal, Central and Southwestern regions of Queensland.
‘‘The training program aims to address critical GP shortages we are seeing in smaller communities by supporting fully qualified doctors to hone their skills in the areas of rural general practice and rural generalism,’’ Associate Professor Heggarty said.
‘‘It is excellent to see new registrars commencing in places like Tully, Sarina, Whitsundays, Ingham, Cloncurry, Monto and Ayr, which historically have had less stable GP workforces.
‘‘These doctors have been training for many years which means they bring specialised medical skills, new energy and often their families to small rural communities that greatly need and appreciate the services these GPs in training provide.’’
Registrars participated in a two-day orientation workshop across five locations including Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton and Hervey Bay.
‘‘Once they have completed their orientation, registrars will head out to their chosen communities where they will train with local services including hospital and health service facilities, while serving an important role in delivering primary care,’’ Associate Professor Heggarty said.
‘‘Having run the training program from 2016 to 2022, our team has trained more than 800 rural GPs, thanks to a mix of world-class expertise and knowledge of the local areas these GPs will work in.’’
After the transition to GP College-led training in 2023, the total is now more than 900 registrars fellowed (from 2016 to 2023) in northern Queensland since JCU’s involvement began in 2016.
Far North Queensland local, Dr Baylie Fletcher, graduated from JCU in 2020 and has worked in the Cairns region ever since. Dr Fletcher said a growing focus on rural medicine and a Residency position at a GP practice in Tully last year was the final motivation she needed to sign up for general practice training through RACGP and stay on in Tully.
“I love the continuity of care you get in general practice,’’ Dr Fletcher said.
‘‘It’s rewarding as a doctor, but it’s also important for the community because many patients ask, ‘how long are you here for?’ or ‘you’re not going anywhere?’, so they are excited to hear that I am staying on, which is very heartwarming.’’
Dr Fletcher said being part of a patient’s journey was the most fulfilling part of being a doctor.
‘‘You treat expectant mums, then you see them with their newborns; that’s continuity of care,’’ Dr Fletcher said.
‘‘I had that growing up in Port Douglas, seeing our family GP from the age of seven so it’s exciting to think that I’ll potentially be that type of doctor for these young patients as they grow up.
“We recently received our training schedule, and it was great to see extensive and varied education sessions and I am looking forward to meeting other new registrars from around the region and hearing their experiences.
‘‘It makes it feel official, that I am really working towards becoming a GP,” Dr Fletcher said.
RACGP Vice President and Rural Chair Michael Clements, who is also an honorary Associate Professor at JCU, said medical students and GPs who trained in rural areas more often stay in rural practice.
“Most GPs and medical students grow up in cities, so haven’t experienced living and working in a rural community,” Associate Professor Clements said.
“Ensuring that opportunity is open to GPs in training is a really valuable step towards ensuring communities in north Queensland have access to general practice.”
ACRRM President Dr Dan Halliday said the orientation sessions embraced what it took to be a Rural Generalist.
"These sessions see experienced Rural Generalists working with those entering the profession, providing mentorship, educational and wellbeing support,’’ Dr Halliday said.
"They are also an opportunity to network with peers who are committed to attaining the high-quality skills they need to provide specialised healthcare to rural, remote and First Nations Peoples.’’
To find out more about how JCU General Practice and Rural Medicine is preparing the next generation of GPs to serve the regional, rural and remote communities of North and North Western Queensland, visit www.jcu.edu.au/gprm
JCU Senior Media Liaison Officer