The reality is people who live in country areas of Australia are generally less healthy than those in our big cities. They have a higher burden of disease and are more socioeconomically disadvantaged.
At the same time, in the vast majority of instances, the number of employed full-time equivalent registered health professionals decreases on a per-population basis the more remote the location is.
Governments have long understood that students who undertake their health and medical studies in rural and regional Australia are more likely to practise in country areas. Australia’s first rural clinical school was established in Traralgon, Victoria, in 1992, and the first university department of rural health, in Broken Hill, NSW, in 1996.
National Rural Health Commissioner, Adjunct Professor Ruth Stewart, said progress had been made to narrow the gap in healthcare workers on a per-population basis between metropolitan and country areas.
'However, more sustained effort, with new ideas based on what we have learned in recent decades, is necessary to deliver healthcare equity for regional, rural and remote Australia,' Professor Stewart said.
'My office has worked with the Medical Journal of Australia and key rural health training and education stakeholders, including the National Regional Education Commissioner, the Hon Fiona Nash, on a special supplement that focuses on what we’ve learned from our continued investment in this important area.
'It also looks at what’s needed to better support growing and retaining the rural and remote health workforce – an outcome that is so vital to address the health inequities experienced in country communities.
'This special supplement provides us with reflections and evidence on what is working, and what can be further done to improve access to health services in rural and remote communities.
'We know there are many opportunities to influence where clinicians work; we must now focus on how policy can support rural and remote community needs.”
The supplement is available on the Medical Journal of Australia’s website and through Wiley Online Library.