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Doctors trained overseas need more support from the federal government, the Australian Medical Association says.
The AMA, which represents more than 27,000 doctors, has asked Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek to cover the cost of extra supervision and support for international medical graduates, particularly those who are working in regional and rural areas.
“This lack of support is unfair on IMGs [international medical graduates], who are often working in very challenging environments and are professionally isolated,” AMA president Steve Hambleton says.
Doctors who were trained overseas are a large and important part of the health workforce. Forty per cent of rural Australia “would have to shut down tomorrow” if it weren’t for doctors trained overseas, Hambleton says.
According to the most recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a federal agency that provides health and welfare statistics, about three-quarters, or 74.5 per cent, of employed medical practitioners have been trained in Australia.
Given that figure, it is no surprise that KPMG’s director of health economics, Henry Cutler, says that Australia’s healthcare system is heavily dependent on foreign-trained doctors.
Moreover, as demand for medical services is huge, he believes this is not likely to change soon.
“Even though the federal government has been ramping up funding for education and training,” he says, “our dependence will continue as the home-grown supply of medical practitioners struggles to keep up with the insatiable demand for healthcare.
“People talk about the shortage of labour in mining but the healthcare system has been dealing with this issue for some time.”
Doctors who have been trained overseas can need help in a range of areas, Hambleton says. Those who qualified overseas often work in rural and regional locations, which can make their work more difficult.
“A particular ongoing concern,” he says, “has been poor access to supervision and oversight for many IMG doctors working in regional and rural general practice.
“This lack of support is unfair on IMGs, who are often working in very challenging environments and are professionally isolated.”
In addition, many doctors who have qualified abroad don’t have access to Medicare, as a consequence of conditions attached to their employment visas.
On another front, doctors who have been trained overseas might need help with language – their medical degree might have been in another language. They also need training to help them understand Australian culture. “The best trained international doctor coming into this country is going to need transitional support,” Hambleton says.
“There’s a barrier about how we behave in this country.”
He cites an example of an overseas doctor who was insulted when a patient referred to him as “you poor bastard”. He hadn’t realised that in Australia the phrase is a term of endearment.
The federal Department of Health and Ageing was not immediately available to comment.