Research Letter

Leveraging the Bonded Medical Places Scheme to attract and retain doctors in rural areas: the role of Regional Training Hubs


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Beatriz Cuesta-Briand
1 PhD, Research Fellow

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Denese Playford
2 PhD, Associate Professor *

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Andrew B Kirke
3 MBBS, Director

name here
David Oldham
4 MBBS, Director of Medical Education

name here
David Atkinson
5 MBBS, MPH, Regional Training Hub Lead


*A/Prof Denese Playford


1, 2, 3, 5 Rural Clinical School of Western Australia, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Perth, WA 6009, Australia

4 Western Australia Country Health Service, Perth, WA 6000, Australia


1 May 2020 Volume 20 Issue 2


RECEIVED: 29 November 2019

REVISED: 7 April 2020

ACCEPTED: 16 April 2020


Cuesta-Briand B, Playford D, Kirke AB, Oldham D, Atkinson D.  Leveraging the Bonded Medical Places Scheme to attract and retain doctors in rural areas: the role of Regional Training Hubs . Rural and Remote Health 2020; 20: 5753.



Dept of Health ED-CO-18-51003 and UWA RA/4/20/5352

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Leveraging the Bonded Medical Places Scheme to attract and retain doctors in rural areas: the role of Regional Training Hubs

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The Bonded Medical Places (BMP) Scheme is an Australian Government program that aims to address workforce shortages, particularly in rural and remote areas. Under the scheme, the Commonwealth provides a place at a medical school and, in exchange, participants agree to work in an area of workforce shortage for a period between 1 and 6 years1. The BMP Scheme will undergo substantial reforms in 2020, with the introduction of a consistent three-year Return of Service Obligation (RoSO), and a more flexible and supportive system allowing participants to fulfil their obligations more easily2.

As part of an ongoing study exploring the factors influencing the decision to pursue rural work among early career doctors (postgraduate years 1–5), in collaboration with WA Country Health Services, the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia (RCSWA) surveyed 70 doctors and conducted 18 semi-structured telephone interviews between October 2018 and March 2019. Of the total interview sample, seven participants were bonded doctors, all of whom had joined the BMP Scheme before 2015. This means that, on gaining fellowship, they will be required to work for a period of time equal to the length of their medical course, which can be reduced by up to half with eligible pre-vocational and vocational training3.

Thematic analysis of the qualitative BMP Scheme data subset showed a spectrum of experiences relating to RoSO planning, ranging from those who reported having ‘maxed out’ on the pre-vocational and vocational training they could have recognised towards their RoSO to those who were uncertain as to whether they would be able to, and those who did not intend to, fulfil their BMP obligations. Early positive rural work experience appeared to influence current rural location in the sample, suggesting that bonded doctors would be receptive to receiving information tailored to their individual circumstances, but the data also suggests that there is a vacuum of such advice. Career planning – which included intentional urban terms to prepare for future rural practice, strong rural intention and rural exposure (both undergraduate and prevocational) – appeared to positively influence RoSO planning. However, there were clear information gaps relating to the BMP Scheme and RoSO obligations, even among those with a strong rural intention and clear career plans. 

As we move towards a more consistent and flexible BMP system, Regional Training Hubs – an Australian Government initiative aiming to strengthen rural medical training opportunities4 – are well positioned to disseminate relevant, targeted information to bonded doctors early in their careers so they can make fully informed career decisions. Furthermore, their work engaging health services to provide tailored advice on how to align pre-vocational and vocational training requirements with RoSO obligations might also prove effective in ‘converting’ bonded doctors with a less defined rural intention. The present data supports the hubs’ dialogue with health services as one key role, as well as their collaboration with other organisations, such as rural workforce agencies, in leveraging the BMP Scheme to attract and retain doctors in rural areas and proactively supporting bonded doctors as they navigate their career.

Beatriz Cuesta-Briand, Denese Playford, Andrew Kirke, David Atkinson, Rural Clinical School of Western Australia

David Oldham, Western Australia Country Health Service


1 Department of Health. Bonded Medical Places (BMP) Scheme. 2018. Available: web link (Accessed August 2019).
2 Department of Health. New arrangements for the Bonded Medical Program. 2019. Available: web link (Accessed August 2019).
3 Department of Health. Bonded Medical Place Scheme – information booklet for 2015. 2014. Available: web link (Accessed August 2019).
4 Department of Health. Regional Training Hubs. 2017. Available: web link (Accessed August 2019).

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