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14 Mar 2018

BY VICTORIA COOK, VICE PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION

It’s a tumultuous time to be a medical student. As Macquarie Medical School opened its doors, and the Murray Darling Medical School proposal resurfaced, last week medical students across the country called their MPs with concerns.

But new medical schools won’t be graduating doctors until years after most of us finish. Years behind, these new students won’t be applying for our future jobs. So why do we care?

As a medical student who will graduate in 2018, I am right in the middle of the man-made tsunami of junior doctors coming to a ward near you. This influx of medical graduates has been looming for years, and it has not peaked yet.

There are another two schools’ worth of graduating classes, Curtin and now Macquarie, yet to join the ‘wave’. Yet, hospital systems have an upper limit in the number of training doctors they can feasibly support.

I know this might sound like hyperbole. I’ll admit that the natural disaster metaphor might be laying it on a bit strong. What I am trying to say is; students know the uncertainty and pressure that new medical students will face because we already feel it ourselves.

Unlike my international student colleagues, I am guaranteed an internship. But I worry about what comes after. Medicine gets more competitive as each year passes and fears of not getting onto a training program are pervasive.

You will recognise students from this era of medicine by the sheer length of their CV. From day one of med school we hear rumours and hearsay about what the golden ticket to a specialty program is – some say it’s a PhD, others say leadership experience, and always, always ‘get published’. We add things to our CV like it’s a compulsion.

While students run around frantically, forgoing holidays and family gatherings, to do research and extracurriculars, we hear older doctors lamenting this exact CV buffing. They say, exasperated, that panels don’t look at CVs anymore because they are all impressive and all the same. They tell us what really counts is your work experience and references.

So students are left asking then, what is the answer. By 2030 there are projected to be 1000 more applicants than available advanced vocational training positions. When candidates overwhelm spots, there must be a way to discriminate.

After medical school, the CV stacking doesn’t stop. Universities now offer a plethora of master’s courses costing tens of thousands of dollars a pop. Courses in surgery or critical care – more hours of unpaid study, more debt on your balance sheet and hopefully, finally, the criteria that will distinguish you. I’ve met more than one intern already on their way to another three letters, before the ink on their MD has time to dry.

In other cases, it’s not the start of a training program where the pressure lies, it’s afterwards with an exit block. No positions for your newly fledged fellowship, no job for your 15 years of hard slog. Government modelling suggests that Emergency Medicine Doctors will outnumber workforce need by at least 1000 by 2030. Doctors will have spent five years or more of their lives studying for a job that doesn’t exist, and left with a qualification that isn’t transferrable.

Many junior doctors live their lives buried in night shifts and study, or languishing in unaccredited jobs, waiting for the time ‘after training’ when finally, as a consultant, their job will allow them a semblance of work-life balance. What do they do if that time doesn’t come?

As we talk about improving mental and health and wellbeing, it is important to recognise that nothing will be solved until the overwhelming workforce pressure doctors are facing is addressed.

As the Government considers funding yet another medical school, students this week stood up to say enough is enough.

They asked for the focus to move from the simplistic and unsustainable solution of simply producing more graduates, to a more difficult but necessary focus on fixing vocational training. Students said loud and clear that pressure on young junior doctors is already too great, and the opportunities already too scarce.

Young Australians’ dreams of being doctors are at risk of being exploited by opportunistic universities and short-sighted political point scoring. It costs too much to do medicine only to end up with nothing.

 


Published: 14 Mar 2018