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Making Rural Health Matter
James Cook University is making a difference in the lives of Australians in regional, rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Its unique approach to training a fit-for-purpose health workforce has made it Australia’s most successful university in producing health professionals who train in and go on to live and work in these communities.
Building a regional health workforce
JCU’s mission to contribute to the health workforce for rural and regional communities was born out of the need for well-trained rural practitioners to address the poor health outcomes in the bush. There are plenty of doctors in Australia, but most are working in cities. According to the Health Workforce Dataset 2019, there are 4.3 doctors per thousand people in the cities, compared to just 3 doctors per thousand in rural and remote areas. People who live in regional, rural and remote areas have poorer health than their metropolitan counterparts and also suffer from poorer access to health care. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found those living outside major centres have higher reported rates of chronic diseases, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. They have higher incidence of low birth weight babies and poorer ante and post-natal health. There’s also a greater prevalence of mental health problems.
In order to address the problem, JCU is focussed on recruiting values-aligned students to its programs, giving them a unique rural experience during undergraduate study or specialist GP training and then providing regional training pathways to fulfilling health careers. As part of its unique approach, JCU deliberately recruits students from rural, regional and remote areas, or those who have an interest in working in these regions. 67% of the 2020 JCU Medicine cohort was from non-metropolitan areas. Students across all the disciplines undertake clinical placements in regional, rural and remote communities which results in an increased interest in practising in those locations. Of the JCU Medicine graduates from cohorts between 2005 to 2020, 84% intended to practice outside major cities upon completion of the program, which is more than the national average of just under 35%* (Source: JCU Medicine Graduate Survey 2005-2019, *Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand Medical Schools Outcomes Database: National Data Report 2015-2019, August 2020).
JCU’s GP training program builds on the success of these foundations, forging links between undergraduate and postgraduate training. During the program, graduate doctors can undertake specialist GP training across regional Queensland. The program has achieved remarkable results since it started in 2016, producing more than 500 GPs who have practised in regional, rural and remote Australia. In 2020 alone, more than 1000 JCU Medicine graduates and GP Fellows worked in regional, rural and remote communities.
Helping close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to suffer poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians. While there have been improvements in some areas of health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to have a lower life expectancy than non-Indigenous Australians and are at least twice as likely to rate their health as fair or poor. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are almost twice as likely to suffer from low birth weight and are more than twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as non-Indigenous Australians.
JCU is working with communities to address the disparity in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians with a key focus on improving the provision of culturally appropriate clinical practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through the right education experience, JCU is ensuring that we deliver health professionals that are well equipped to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to improve the overall health of their communities.
This is being achieved by embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in the curriculum across the disciplines, particularly in its GP training program. The program provides a range of training opportunities and resources for registrars to develop a higher level of cultural and clinical competence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The University is working to increase the capacity of training posts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to train registrars and aims to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander registrars and those who want to work in the area of Indigenous health.
JCU also has a focus on recruiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into the health disciplines, with tertiary pathways aimed specifically at assisting students from Indigenous backgrounds into health courses.