Dr Adam Coltzau, St George, said incentives such as rural health mentor programs already exist for young doctors but convincing graduates to remain in the bush was the big challenge.
“There are different expectations nowadays where work life balance is a priority,” he said.
“Patient expectations are also changing. People complain their doctor was always accessible 25 years ago but patients didn’t knock on the door at five in the morning for a runny nose they’d had for an hour then.
“Innovative use of technology and greater flexibility with nurse practitioners is the key now because we need more people on the ground to do the job of one person.”
Paroo Shire Mayor Lindsay Godfrey said the constant flow of doctors and using locums to fill gaps was not fulfilling community expectations.
“People like to see the same doctor each time they visit a surgery but health in these small towns wouldn’t operate without locums so we need to look at comparative options,” he said.
“Rural generalists are the future of rural health, they’re passionate about the bush and it’s up to us to make sure the transition works well.”
The Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway (QRGP) is leading the way for rural health with the program’s 425th intern starting training in January 2016.
Dr Nikita Shanley is one young doctor who returned to her home town of Roma after following the QRGP and said there was a common misconception that rural medicine was a lonely experience.
“There was a perception in the city that I was being sent out into the bush on my own and that I would have to be able to do everything myself without any help if something went wrong,” she said.
“I’ve had plenty of support from the doctors here in Roma and on occasions when we’ve had to call Toowoomba Hospital for advice we’ve felt really supported.”
Dr Coltzau said the motto “if you’ve seen one country town you’ve seen them all” was outdated and rural areas needed to push for the medical resources suitable for each town.
“It has been too long accepted that people in rural areas don’t get the same level of care as those in urban areas,” he said.
“Rural people have worse outcomes regarding cancer and higher incidences of heart disease and diabetes and it’s to do with service provision.
“We need to fight for every dollar to produce a hybrid model that works in each individual town- the people out here are the life of our nation and they’ve been happy to sit by for too long.”