New initiatives promoting careers in general practice announced this week are expected to help address the shortage of rural medical professionals.
Health Minister Andrew Little has announced dedicated funding towards GP training in what the Hauora Taiwhenua Rural Health Network said acknowledges the position of general practice specialists and the role general practices play in training junior doctors.
In terms of the initiatives, developed by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, from 2023 salaries for first-year GP registrars will be increased to align with other specialist registrars and their hospital counterparts.
Salary increases will be between 13% and 23%, depending on which year of training a junior doctor is in.
In addition, specialist GPs undertaking on-the-job training of registrars will receive more funded teaching time to dedicate to first-year registrars.
The third initiative will reward general practices that host postgraduate doctors undertaking community-based attachments, with a weekly hosting fee.
Currently practices receive no financial recognition for the time spent training junior doctors.
Little said a review published this week shows that trainee GPs are paid less than registrars working in hospitals, which he said is the biggest barrier to young doctors going into general practice.
“That pay gap will be closed, to bring the pay of first-year GP registrars in line with that of hospital registrars.
“Funding is also being increased to enable the Royal College to pay teaching supervisors for an extra two and a half hours a week, and GPs who host 12-week community training modules will be paid hosting fees of $3600.”
Little said steps are underway to make it easier for overseas-trained doctors to come to New Zealand and get registered and practising. These will, he said, increase the number of GPs working in communities.
Hauora Taiwhenua Rural Health Network chief executive Dr Grant Davidson said this will make a GP career look more attractive and is a response to calls for action in addressing the dire shortage of GPs, which is most pronounced in rural areas.
Davidson said the initiatives will encourage rural general practices to host junior doctors in their rural communities and share with them the fulfilment of rural practice.
“We are glad that general practice is now being recognised as an equal pathway at registrar level,” Davidson said.
“This is a good first step, but we need much wider system-based changes if we are to see greater numbers of GPs choose to work in rural communities.
“There need to be more positions available in medical schools, with a good proportion of these targeted at students interested in rural general practice.
“At the same time there should be an immediate review of rural primary care funding so that rural primary and community care workers can enjoy pay, work conditions, and lifestyles that will make rural health a highly regarded and sought-after career, which it once was.”
Watch more: Wilson Mitchell is passionate about rural communities and the health and wellbeing of those who live there. Filmed April 2021