Western Victoria doctor shortage: Stawell zoning hampers recruitment

Workforce zoning classifications are shackling Wimmera practices’ ability to recruit doctors.

Stawell Medical Centre practice manager Kim Hinkley said the Stawell area had a shortage of doctors, but attracting new doctors to the area was challenging because the town was not in a District of Workforce Shortage.

This is a measure the federal government uses to try to achieve a fair distribution of medical services across the country.

Mrs Hinkley said it was a shame the area was not classified as having a doctor shortage.

“We work with a wonderful and supportive group of doctors, nurses and administrative personnel,” she said.

“We are an Australian General Practice Accreditation Limited accredited practice and a fully accredited training practice.

“Our accreditation allows us to assist in the training of overseas-trained doctors or international medical graduates to be excellent Australian doctors, but the current zoning excludes us from recruiting many prospective applicants.

“We take pleasure in supporting medical students and general practitioner registrars, and we employ good regular locum doctors to try to fill the gaps and allow our permanent doctors to try to get a decent work-life balance. 

“This is an expensive option, but necessary to meet the needs of our patients.”

Mrs Hinkley said many general practitioners did not like to move to rural or regional areas.

“They often have their families and cultural connections in the city, and the move can be difficult, particularly for the families of the doctor,” she said.

“I can only speak for Stawell Medical Centre, but the demands on a rural doctor are enormous.

“They not only provide general practitioner services through the clinic five days a week, they also provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support through the Urgent Care Centre at Stawell Regional Health.  

“Because of this additional pressure, many of our doctors do not work full-time in the practice, and this creates a shortage of appointments.

“The demands of a rural general practitioner are different and sometimes greater, although there are also terrific opportunities.”