I read with great interest the AusDoc article: “Is general practice becoming less attractive to medical students? Here’s what new data tell us” (7 August 2023).
It is certainly pleasing to see an increase in the number of students interested in rural medicine in the latest Medical Deans’ 2023 Medical Schools Outcome Database (MSOD) National Data Report. It shows that the efforts of medical schools and interest groups to expose medical students to rural practice is paying off in some ways.
However, other findings from the survey are frustrating to medical students, like myself, who are looking to enter general practice in a few years’ time. The General Practice Students Network (GPSN) is a national network of 4,000 plus aspiring students who also want to become GPs and we continue to tell policy makers what needs to be invested in – but are our voices being heard?
In early 2023, as National Chair of GPSN – the only nationwide medical student club dedicated to future doctors interested in general practice early in their career – we called on policy makers to invest in the quality of medical school general practice placements and to support more peer-to-peer initiatives.
Medical students are aware of the current uncertainty within general practice, and are not immune to the media coverage that general practice has been attracting. Therefore, while it is disappointing, it is not surprising there has been a small drop in final year medical students preferencing general practice as their specialty of choice.But how do you start reversing this declining trend? How do you increase the profile and attractiveness of general practice to the future medical workforce?
The answer is to listen to future GPs, to the students coming up through the pipeline. We know and see the barriers and have effective solutions, so start investing in the most valuable resource within general practice – its future practitioners!
Our members continually tell us the importance of quality early exposure to general practice at the beginning of their journey, and this work needs to be done before hospital training. Our GPSN members want to connect with general practice, understand it, and be supported in professional peer exchange with existing GPs early on in their medical school experience.
We all know that early positive impressions of general practice will go a long way to increasing the number of medical students becoming GPs. GPSN members want an opportunity to get to know general practice and GPs early in their first few years of training.
Our current GPSN national network is critical to the development of future GPs and encouraging medical students to apply for GP training. Professor Richard Murray, the Dean of Medicine and Dentistry at James Cook University, recently said that general practices have a tougher time compared with teaching hospitals.
GPSN agrees and believes medical schools need to be more hands on and connected with their GP partners when it comes to the general practice placement experience. This means a change in how medical schools, general practice, and students are supported.
While the GP specialty is at a crossroads, we understand that GPSN has a role to play in strengthening access to primary care in Australia and working with our sector peak partners to uplift the GP specialty. GPSN wants to play a role, and we want to challenge the preconceptions of medical students about the speciality of general practice.
But the perspectives of medical students must be listened to, otherwise policy makers will continue to invest in initiatives that miss the mark.
We are excited about our next steps and initiatives to bolster our future GP workforce. Is it not time to try a new approach to addressing Australia’s GP shortage?
National Chair, General Practice Students Network