Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged a government inquiry to cut migration red tape that is holding back international medical graduates (IMGs) from practising in Australia.

RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on Migration to present recommendations to attract and retain IMGs and better support overseas-trained doctors to complete GP specialist training.

The RACGP has identified solutions to migration barriers for medical workers, including:

  • a coordinated approach to processing applications to reduce administrative burdens and hasten processing for suitably qualified IMGs to work in Australia
  • greater support to attract and retain IMGs in regional and rural locations
  • funding and support for internationally trained doctors to prepare for specialist GP training to practise to Australian standards
  • greater cultural awareness and safety training for IMGs.

Associate Professor Clements said international medical graduates, as the core of Australia’s rural GP workforce, must be supported by fair and straightforward processes.

“Australia is losing too many potential rural and regional GPs to other countries because of our slow and painful processes,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re hearing about practices that have been forced to close because they cannot replace GPs who are retiring or moving on. Meanwhile, international medical graduates are stuck in the process for up to two years or more.

“Australia should be the destination of choice for international medical graduates, but currently, red tape, duplication, and the arduous and drawn-out processes they have to deal with mean we’re losing out on essential talent to other countries.

“International medical graduates make an enormous contribution to rural general practice – more than half of Australia’s GPs earned their medical degree overseas. We should be welcoming qualified GPs with open arms.”

Associate Professor Clements also said the government must develop a coordinated approach to processing applications for IMGs planning to work in areas of need.

“It’s clear we need to a coordinated approach to meet Australia’s GP workforce requirements,” he said.

“We are seeking a commitment from the Department of Home Affairs, AHPRA, and Medicare to work with the RACGP and other medical colleges to fast-track applications for GPs planning on working in areas of need via priority processing and enabling parallel processes while ensuring we uphold rigorous assessment against standards. We have recommended that the Rural Workforce Agencies or a similar agency or group be commissioned to coordinate this.

“We also need to improve incentives for all GPs to work in rural and regional areas.

“The government used to subsidise international medical graduates to train and work as rural GPs through the RACGP’s Fellowship Support Program, but that subsidy ended in 2022. We are calling on the government to reinstate the subsidised training as a straightforward step to restore general practice in rural Australia.

“We need to incentivise, not compel, GPs to work in rural and regional areas. Currently, we require international medical graduates to work for 10 years outside the major cities. The RACGP does not support this 10-year moratorium and we believe it should be reviewed. It’s a well-intentioned policy, but it’s out of touch with the reality of rural practice. It can sound sensible to compel international medical graduates to work outside cities, but evidence from Australia and Canada shows this often this just results in them leaving as soon as possible.

“We should be giving people reasons to stay – better support, supervision, and incentives like reinstating the subsidy for our Fellowship Support Program. It’s also a matter of international medical graduates knowing they’ll be able to find childcare, housing, and support their family. Many international medical graduates wish to bring parents with them to Australia to maintain their support networks, which will also help them to start working sooner after they arrive in Australia.

“We face more competition than ever to recruit overseas-trained GPs as other countries try to attract doctors from around the world. That makes it more important than ever to streamline our system for attracting, recruiting, and retaining international medical graduates while ensuring we maintain our high standard of care.”

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