More students than internships

Western Australia could see a shortfall of 1450 doctors and medical specialists by 2025, a Department of Health report has claimed.

The projections reveal that the number of specialty fields facing critical shortages – where less than 70 per cent of patient demand is met – is expected to surge from two in 2015 to 18 in the next 10 years, and both private and public health systems will be affected.

The report suggests there is a “constriction in the training pipeline”, as many Australian students struggle to obtain internships to complete their medical studies.

Council of Australian Post-Graduate Associations president Peter Derbyshire said the problem stemmed from the deregulation of university placement, and Curtin’s new medical school could “exacerbate the problem”.

“We have hit a point where we have more students doing the medical program than are able to get internships,” he said.

“We saw something like 600 students completing biomedical science undergraduate degrees for 200 medical places at the end of their degree. Of course we’re going to have a backlog of students.”

A Medical Training Review Panel report showed last year the total number of medical students had doubled nationally in the last decade and more than 20,000 students had commenced their prevocational training.

Curtin’s new $49 million medical school offers a five-year undergraduate program , two years shorter than the state’s two other medical schools , and is expected to increase the intake of medical students.

Curtin received more than 1,500 applications from students for 2017 with 60 places, and plans to increase this to 110 places a year by 2022.

Along with $22 million capital investment, the state government earlier this year pledged ongoing funding for clinical training, internships, and supervised specialist training programs.

Curtin University dean of medicine William Hart said the increased output of students would help the shortfall rather than hinder it, and that the problem related to WA being largely “under doctored” for a long time.

“There are not enough people in senior positions who can offer accredited training positions for young graduates,” he said.

“We need to do a lot of [collaboration] with medical colleges and the state and federal governments to see if we can broaden the range of training young doctors receive, so they get more exposure in the general community and to general practice.”

The Department of Health report sat Western Australia’s public health sector as the second lowest specialist to population ratio in Australia, and said the state’s current vocational training program was failing to meet replacement requirements let alone additional increases required by increasing demand.