COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Barriers facing junior doctors in rural practice

Deborah M Smith
Rural and Remote Health 2005, 5 (4): 348
16255620

INTRODUCTION: Early postgraduate, or junior doctors, are still required to practise in rural and remote communities, and they continue to face numerous issues and difficulties. Within the hospital setting, exposure to rural practice appears to be very limited during internship, and also to some extent, during the second postgraduate year and beyond. This is a major issue for those required to undertake country relieving, rural terms or who will be bonded to rural and remote practice for several years after internship. This research investigated the current issues and difficulties faced by junior doctors, required to undertake rural and remote practice in Queensland, Australia.

METHODS: An exploratory study was undertaken. Primary data were collected through semi-structured interviews held with key stakeholders. Stakeholders included: directors of clinical training; medical educators; junior doctors; rural practitioners; academic rural practitioners; and medical administrators. Of the 23 people approached, a total of 19 agreed to be interviewed. The response rate was 82.6%.

RESULTS: Similar to the issues identified in the literature, there are currently a number of barriers influencing the ability of junior doctors to practise competently and confidently when undertaking practice in rural and remote communities. Minimal clinical experience, lack of supervision and on-site support, inadequate orientation and uninformed expectations, limited access to relevant education, and the influence of isolation, results in an overall lack of preparation both professionally and personally. When asked, respondents supported the identification of core skills and knowledge, and integration of these and other issues affecting rural practice, into their hospital-based programs. Current hospital-based education and training programs were not adequately preparing junior doctors for rural and remote practice. It was commented that orientation and education, with a rural emphasis, could assist junior doctors in their preparation for country relieving, rural terms and longer placements.

CONCLUSIONS: Data collected in this study have confirmed that junior doctors are still being sent to undertake country relieving in their second postgraduate year. Hence, the issues remain for junior doctors when undertaking practice in rural or remote communities, including country relievers and scholarship holders. Results from this study suggest that prior recommendations have not been fully implemented. A recommendation is that initiatives at the undergraduate level, including increasing rural exposure and integration of rural context into training, be further developed at the early postgraduate level. Core rural competencies should be identified and realistic preparation and support strategies put in place in the hospital setting. This will further the effort to prepare junior doctors for rural practice and minimise some of the barriers currently experienced.

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