A new training program designed to boost South Australia's rural medical workforce is being introduced.
The state government announced the program this week as part of its $20-million Rural Health Workforce Strategy.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said the Rural Generalist Program South Australia would help to attract, train and retain a skilled and sustainable rural medical workforce.
"South Australia faces many challenges in recruiting, training and developing the health professionals needed to deliver health services in rural areas," he said.
"That's why the [state] government has a focus on boosting the rural medical workforce, and this training program will play a key role in helping us secure the rural medical workforce South Australia needs for the future.
"There is increasing demand for skilled GPs in regional areas, and this fit-for-purpose training program will provide a range of training opportunities for clinicians to broaden the range of skills to support them to deliver high quality health care to patients in regional areas."
Among those involved is Dr Andrew Hughes, a GP registrar - an advanced skills trainee in mental health - at the Whyalla Inpatient Mental Health Unit.
This is his first year in Whyalla and fourth as a GP registrar, after spending time in Crystal Brook and Laura, and he hoped the program would bolster rural numbers.
"I hope it means more people will be exposed to living rurally as they train and have excellent opportunities to develop their skills in a rural setting," Dr Hughes said.
"Ultimately, you'd like to see those who do the training to stay rural and encourage others.
"Working rurally has provided me fantastic opportunities that I wouldn't have had in the city - rural GPs get the opportunity to see a wide variety of cases come through the door and it encouraged me to be more independent with my clinical skills."
Dr Hughes is doing an extra 12 months of training in mental health, working alongside psychiatrists and the community mental health team to deliver services, and do what they can help prevent people utilising inpatient services.
Having grown up on Yorke Peninsula he said the lifestyle attracted him to Whyalla, and that was a vital aspect in boosting rural GP numbers.
"I love working rurally and my wife has also grown up in a rural area, so for us it made sense and the lifestyle attracts us," he said.
"A lot of doctors don't want to do 24/7 for 365 days - the remuneration is fantastic but people want a weekend off and be available to their families, so if towns could attract at least two doctors that would be more of an incentive."
Dr Hughes said having a streamlined process for helping newer doctors and courses to help set them up if going into a private practice as the sole doctor would help.
In the 2021 training year there will be 12 rural interns completing the full year of training; 15 metropolitan interns completing rural emergency rotations; 12 full-time rural postgraduate year 2s; eight metropolitan postgraduate year 2s completing a rural rotation; 13 rural GP registrars completing their advanced skill training; and one rural GP anaesthetics training positions.
South Australia's training organisation for general practitioners, GPEx, is a program partner, and more than 40 GP registrars are currently training with GPEx on the rural generalist pathway.
GPEx chief executive officer Stephanie Clota said the program was a welcome shot in the arm for regional, rural and remote health services in South Australia.
"GPEx currently provides almost a quarter of South Australia's rural medical workforce and we understand that where we place our registrars matters to the communities we serve," she said.
"Our research shows that positive exposure to general practice and quality placement experiences play a key role in attracting and retaining rural GPs [and] for every 10-week increase in rural training duration, graduates are 35 per cent more likely to practise rurally.
"We understand how much our regional and remote communities need consistency in access to healthcare services and we are committed to providing on-going support to our registrars training in these areas."
Rural Support Service chief clinical advisor Dr Hendrika Meyer said the program would provide high quality rural medical training to clinicians, helping meet the needs of regional communities both now and into the future.
"It is important we increase the number of highly trained and skilled health professionals to be available in regional communities so they can provide better health outcomes for patients in regional communities," she said.
"The Rural Generalist Program will provide trainees advanced skill training positions at regional Local Health Networks to help further strengthen the delivery of care to patients in regional areas.
"We look forward to welcoming trainees to our regions and continuing to work on delivering a stronger rural medical workforce."
Applications for rural training positions and internships in the 2022 training year open this month and close in June.
Applications for post graduate year 2+ and advanced skills training positions in the 2022 training year will open in early June and close in late June.
For more information or to express your interest in the program go to ruralgeneralist.sa.gov.au or email Health.SARuralGeneralistTraining@sa.gov.au.