Introduction: Despite substantial investment in rural workforce support, sustaining the necessary recruitment and retention of general practitioners (GPs) in rural areas remains a challenge. Insufficient medical graduates are choosing a general/rural practice career. Medical training at postgraduate level, particularly for those ‘’between’ undergraduate medical education and specialty training, remains strongly reliant on hospital experience in larger hospitals, potentially diverting interest away from general/rural practice. The Rural Junior Doctor Training Innovation Fund (RJDTIF) program offered junior hospital doctors (interns) to experience 10 weeks in a rural general practice, aiming to increase their consideration of general/rural practice careers This study aims to evaluate the educational and potential workforce impact of the RJDTIF program.
Methods: Up to 110 places were established during 2019–2020 for Queensland’s interns to undertake an 8-12 week rotation (depending on individual hospital rosters) out of regional hospitals to work in a rural general practice. Participants were surveyed before and after the placement, though only 86 were invited due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Descriptive quantitative statistics were applied to the survey data. Four semi-structured interviews were conducted to further explore their experiences post-placement, with audio-recordings transcribed verbatim. Semi-structured interview data were analysed using inductive, reflexive thematic analysis.
Results: In total 60 interns completed either survey, though only 25 were matched as completing both surveys. About half (48%) indicated they had preferenced the rural GP term and 48% indicated strong enthusiasm for the experience. General practice was indicated as the most likely career option for 50%, other general specialty 28% and sub-specialty 22%. Likelihood to be working in a regional/rural location in 10 years was indicated as ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ for 40%, ‘unlikely’ for 24% and unsure for 36%. The two most common reasons for preferencing a rural GP term were experiencing training in a primary care setting (50%) and gaining more clinical skills through increased patient exposure (22%). The overall impact on pursuing a primary care career was self-assessed as much more likely by 41%, but much less by 15%. Interest in a rural location was less influenced. Those rating the term poor or average had low pre-placement enthusiasm for the term. The qualitative analysis of interview data produced two themes: Importance of the rural GP term for interns (hands-on learning, skills improvement, influence on future career choice and engagement with the local community); and Potential improvements to rural intern GP rotations.
Conclusion: Most participants reported a positive experience from their rural GP rotation, which was recognised as a sound learning experience at an important time with respect to choosing a specialty. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, this evidence supports the investment in programs that provide opportunities for junior doctors to experience rural general practice in these formative postgraduate years to stimulate interest in this much-needed career pathway. Focusing resources on those who have at least some interest and enthusiasm may improve its workforce impact.