Australia’s Shortage of Rural Doctors



The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recently reported that around 20% of Australia’s rural population were unable to see a GP due to none being close by, while almost 60% said they had no access to specialists in their region. 

This impacts the quality of care and contributes to reduced wellbeing and shorter life expectancy in the rural Australian population compared to metropolitan residents.

Emergency department at a hospital

Why do many doctors avoid rural regions?

The majority of doctors trained in Australia come from a metropolitan background and are used to the city lifestyle. Even with financial incentives, many are reluctant to go rural as their family, friends and social networks are in metropolitan areas.

Furthermore, a recent survey by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) revealed that lack of staffing, level of responsibility, intense work schedule, and poor infrastructure all deter doctors from working in rural and remote regions.

Incentives for doctors to work in rural areas

The Australian government runs several programs that aim to boost the number of doctors working in rural areas. These include:

  • The Remote Vocational Training Scheme, which supports rural doctors to undertake general practice fellowship whilst remaining in their current residence, preventing the need to relocate to urban centres.
  • The More Doctors for Rural Australia program, which allows non-vocationally registered doctors to work in rural areas and to access Medicare. They can receive support and training towards vocational recognition.
A rural landscape in Australia

What are the most recent developments?

Exposure to rural practice during medical training increases the likelihood of working in rural areas after graduation. In 2018, the Australian government launched the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network, which comprises seven universities from New South Wales and Victoria, with the aim to immerse medical students in extensive rural clinical experience.

What do I need to know about rural medicine for my medical school interviews?

The rural doctor shortage may come up during an interview, so it’s important to have an awareness and understanding of the issue. This is particularly important for schools that have a strong emphasis on rural medicine, including the University of New England, Charles Sturt University and James Cook University.

Find out why this problem occurs, its consequences, and what the Australian government is doing to overcome the challenge. Be ready to discuss your opinions on the issue including whether you are willing to work in a rural area and why. Make sure to relate the challenges and rewards of a rural medical career to your own strengths and weaknesses.

Practising in a rural area is a great way to practise with greater autonomy and expand your scope of experience. You will also work in a tight-knit community and receive significant financial incentives, as well as support for further training.

A smiling doctor

Rurality and medical school admissions

If you are from a rural area, check if you are eligible:

  • To apply for a rural entry stream, which has a lower entry requirement
  • For rural adjustment points that improve your selection rank
  • To apply for any scholarships specifically for rural students

Different universities use different criteria to determine your rurality (e.g. ASGC-RA and RRMA), so check with each university that you apply to. 

You can apply for the Bonded Medical Place (BMP) scheme even if you are not from a rural area. The government subsidises your tuition costs in exchange for several years of your service in rural areas after graduation (known as the Return of Service Obligation).

Medify – widening access to medical schools

Medify is committed to widening access to medicine. 

Our UCAT Course is delivered entirely online so even students in the most remote areas can access the high-quality resources 24/7. The prices start from only $80, so it does not advantage students in metropolitan areas, who tend to have a higher purchasing power.

How can I find out more?

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