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    Filling the Medical Skills Gap in North Queensland

    James Cook University is working with the region’s public and private hospitals and health services and GP clinics to address the shortage of medical specialists in north and west Queensland.

    The University runs the Federal Government’s Northern Queensland Regional Training Hub initiative in partnership with health care providers across the region.

    “We want to build a pipeline of medical training from students through to specialists to provide a high quality and sustainable medical workforce to meet the needs of northern Queensland,” said the Dean of JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor Richard Murray.

    Under the initiative, more doctors will be able to complete the different stages of their training, from undergraduate to specialisation, across rural and regional Queensland.

    “The partnership links medical training opportunities across northern Queensland to enable medical trainees to complete as much of their specialist training as possible within the region.

    “We identify medical students and medical trainees with an interest in practicing in rural or regional areas, and provide them with support and relevant information at the early stages of their careers,” Professor Murray said.

    Cairns is one of the North Queensland regions to benefit from the scheme, with the University and healthcare providers focusing on building the region’s specialist medical training capacity.

    Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service Clinical Dean and Staff Specialist, Dr Peter Bourke, said the establishment of the training hub was excellent news for the Health Service and the community.

    “We are focused on developing postgraduate medical specialty training and research,” he said.

    “We welcome improved coordination between the North Queensland hospitals. Our local medical students and trainees will still have the opportunity to go to city hospitals and vice versa. We expect that more doctors experiencing work in regional areas will lead to more doctors returning here.

    “We already have a number of specialists in this hospital who are from here and have returned here, which is great to see.

    “Our agenda is building capacity in regional areas for specialty services within the hospital and part of this agenda is to set up training programs that are rural-based, rather than city-based,” Dr Bourke said.

    Daniel Gileppa is a consultant psychiatrist working on the Atherton Tablelands and at Mossman, near Cairns.  As a north Queenslander he completed his medical degree at James Cook University and felt the pull to return for his specialist training in Cairns.

    “I travelled to a few places around Australia and around the world, but I always came back to north Queensland.  I always enjoyed my time here, I always enjoyed the people here.  I guess I feel like in a way they are my people, so this one of the reasons I came back.”

    He believes the training in Cairns offers both support and autonomy.

    “Initially there’s a high level of supervision and you work within a team.  As a person progresses through their training there is a higher level of autonomy.

    “I think in regional areas you do get a broader range of experiences and you don’t get that siloing that you might get in metropolitan centres.”

    And Dr Gileppa said there is wide scope for sub-specialisation for those training in Cairns.

    “In days gone by, if you wanted to sub-specialise you would have to go away for your training to a metro centre.  Now almost every sub-specialty of psychiatry can be completed in regional areas.”

    Northern Queensland Regional Training Hub members met in Cairns in March with a focus on furthering rural and regional medical training for the benefit of regional Queensland.


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