Date published: 
3 November 2020
Media type: 
Media release
General public

Australia’s medical students have had a difficult year with the challenges posed by COVID-19. But with more than 3,700 set to graduate and start their careers next year, it has still been a success.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt said the COVID-19 crisis had challenged training arrangements for future doctors, with significant changes needed to clinical education.

“There has been significant disruption to clinical training, but medical schools have worked in close collaboration with health services and state and territories to ensure their preparation for practice has been able to continue,” Minister Hunt said.

“I would like to congratulate our medical students who have approached this year with openness, positivity and an unwavering commitment to seeing their medical education through.

“The Australian Government did everything we could to ensure their success, as they contributed to their sector and the community in practical ways, through new initiatives like paid medical assistants and online mental health first aid training.”

The medical assistant role was created to employ final-year medical students to provide routine care whilst continuing their hands-on learning. This allowed senior doctors and nurses to care for people with COVID-19, or other serious illnesses.

Government funding was provided for mental health first aid training for medical students, to ensure they could recognise and respond to the extra stresses associated with the pandemic.

Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton said students had to deal with challenges that others had not faced in previous years, including some students who couldn’t undertake part of their placement in rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Minister Coulton said there had been variation in local circumstances, which presented its own challenges to students, teachers and placements.

“The overall willingness to collaborate to work through issues has been impressive, and we have seen many take up new roles and opportunities during this year of challenges,” Minister Coulton said.

“As students approach the end of the year and of their course, I would like to wish them all the best for their upcoming careers.

“For those students heading to the regions, I encourage you to take full advantage of the benefits a rural medical career provides, including rewarding and varied clinical experiences, brilliant lifestyle opportunities and shorter commuting times.”

In 2020, more than 17,700 medical students enrolled across 20 Australian universities, with more than 3,800 enrolled in the first year of a medical degree.

Professor Richard Murray, President Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand, said the strength, commitment and adaptability of our medical students has been manifest this year.  

“Despite the difficulties, uncertainties and constant change they have had to deal with, they have stayed focused, continued their learning, and maintained their role contributing to excellent patient care.

“In a time where they have been disconnected from their peers, moved to virtual classes, and worked in a very different clinical environment, we have seen our students not only survive, but thrive.

I congratulate them on reaching this major milestone in their career and, along with my colleagues around Australia, look forward to welcoming them into the medical profession.”