New roadmap for sustainable training of GPs in rural areas

  • Belinda O'Sullivan, lead researcher for GPSA’s Supervision Roadmap.

Belinda O'Sullivan, lead researcher for GPSA’s Supervision Roadmap.

General Practice Supervisors Australia (GPSA), Australia’s peak agency supporting supervisors of GPs in training, has just completed a major research project with the Victorian Rural Generalist Program. The resulting Supervision Roadmap report outlines findings about how to expand capacity for supervision of junior doctors seeking to be rural generalists in Victoria. The research was based on a survey and 31 interviews with rural generalist GP supervisors and health service executives based in three rural regions of Victoria (Hume, Loddon Mallee and Barwon South West) and found that:

  • Each region had a set of circumstances and supervisor capacity that would need to be uniquely catered to in building capacity for the Victorian Rural Generalist Program.
  • Building supervision capacity will take commitment to build over time.
  • System-wide partnerships and collaboration were key to the program’s success at delivering more GPs to our rural communities.
  • GP Supervisor workforce burnout was commonly expressed and will need to be addressed if the program is to succeed.
  • Training of rural generalist doctors in Victoria is perceived as being unsustainable without investment.

These findings informed the development of GPSA’s Supervision Roadmap, which emphasises a strengths-based approach to improving the sustainability of supervision and training to build future rural generalist doctors for distributed towns in Victoria.

The research highlighted that GP supervision and training is most sustainable in larger regional centres where there are reasonable amenities and where trainee doctors’ social interests can be pursued. One rural GP supervisor noted, ‘It’s not just about what happens in the practice, it’s about, you know, this doctor is probably going to be living in this community. So, what social supports are there, how are they going to be integrated into the community?’ Trainee doctors tend to be attracted to rural communities with quality schooling for children and social opportunities, and larger rural generalist practices that have good systems.

Blended and remote supervision may be a way to build more supervision capacity in small, distributed communities but it is not amenable across the full rural generalist scope of work. It still relies on local multidisciplinary teams, relatively skilled learners and clear systems around supervisor communication and escalation. Due to the proximity between some towns, places like Victoria could adopt roving supervision models in some of its regions. Utilising modern technology, the tyranny of distance can be overcome by videoconferencing tools that have come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To view the research and roadmap developed for GP supervision in rural Victoria, visit gpsupervisorsaustralia.org.au.

This project was funded through a Victorian Department of Health Training and Capacity Grant and undertaken by GPSA in collaboration with Monash University and the Victorian Rural Generalist Program.

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