New Medical Students Must Be Warned of “Backsides On Seats” Madness – 28 October 2010

“Australian university medical schools should be required to formally advise all new medical students that they may not be able to practise medicine upon graduation due to the failure of medical training places to meet the increasing numbers of graduates”, Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the AustralianDoctors’ Fund said in Sydney today. This advice should be signed off by the student and the adviser.

“What we are witnessing is a tragedy. Universities, cheered on by health “workforce experts”, have dramatically increased the number of medical schools without ensuring that governments will fund the first postgraduate year, or intern year, which is necessary to complete before being able to practise medicine. In the words of the Editor of the MJA, Dr Martin Van Der Weyden “we are now confronting a tsunami of medical graduates, but with no tangible national action to boost the capacity of our hospital system to absorb them. Someone is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, and heads should roll within the ranks of our prevaricating and blundering bureaucrats.”1

There is no doubt that many universities have built a business case around a profitable medical school including the ability to draw on full fee paying medical students. Despite noble aspirations these universities have little if any ability to deliver the hospital internships that enriches a medical student’s education with hands-on clinical experience.

We now have a massive bulge of up to 16,000 medical students in the system and rates of graduation of 3,000- 4,000 per year over the next 5 years.2 About 500-600 of these graduates will be international students. Australian taxpayers fund most medical student places at university except for full fee paying students. Students repay their education costs through substantial HELP/HECS fees once they obtain a paid position in any area3.

Contrary to popular opinion, Australia has more doctors and nurses per thousand of population than ever before. Australian doctor numbers have increased from 117 per 100,000 in 1960 to 291 per 100,000 in 20054. In 2007 Australia had 77,193 registered medical practitioners or 343 medical practitioners per 100,000 based on 2010 population figures.5

Rather than face bitter disappointment young people considering a medical career must be made fully aware of the consequences. Having students sign a declaration acknowledging poor future training prospects is one way of driving home the risks of over-investing in a medical career and wasting precious time.

“What we warned would happen, has now arrived. We have too many medical students chasing too few training prospects. There is no option but to warn future medical students of the uncertainty of future medical practice due to over-expansion of medical schools without consideration of the training demands so created”, Mr Milgate said. For more information, contact: Mr Stephen Milgate (02) 9567 5595 (BH)

1 Dr Martin Van Der Weyden, Orphan interns and blundering bureaucrats,, 20/9/2010
2 Statistics obtained from the Australian Medical Students Association.
3 Income threshold 2010 $44,912 – Other than those bonded students who have their HELP/HECS paid by government under their bonding arrangements, usually for service in areas of need.
4 Malcolm Gillies Oration, June 2009, The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, Appendix Health Then and Now citing ABS Yearbook Australia 1965, 1996 census data & AIHW Australia’s Health 2008.
5 AIHW Medical Labour Force Survey 2007, p5. Figure is adjusted down for presumed duplication.