New breed of doctors on the way

The doctor of the future will be more representative of the Australian population and is likely to be more attuned to patient needs according to a new joint report of the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Characteristics of Students Entering Australian Medical Schools: 1989 to 1996 found that the mix of students entering Australian medical schools during the last decade has changed significantly, and that further change is on the way as medical schools have altered admission criteria to include factors other than academic achievement.

Professor John Horvath, Chair of the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee (AMWAC), said, 'Universities have been changing admission policies with the aim of selecting students who are not only academically able but who have other skills and personal qualities relevant to quality of care for patients. Personal qualities are tested in interview and include ability to communicate, tolerance, insight into other peoples' points of view, ability to analyse and solve problems, and commitment to patients and their interests as a priority'.

He said that three universities have changed from a six-year undergraduate to a four-year graduate medical degree, resulting in students who are more mature and from more diverse backgrounds.

The report found all 10 university medical schools are tackling the shortage of doctors in rural areas and the serious health problems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Strategies include scholarships and reserved places for rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Consequently, 17% of commencing students in 1997 were from a rural background, compared with 10.7% in 1989. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students represented 0.7% of commencing medical students in 1996 compared with 0.4% in 1989.

The report also found:

  • For the last 10 years about 1,300 Australian permanent residents each year have commenced undergraduate medical degrees, and there have been just over 1,200 graduations annually.
  • Female student commencements increased from 43% in 1989 to 46% in 1997.
  • 57.1% of commencing medical students in 1996 were from high socioeconomic status postcode areas, 27.8% from middle status, and 10.4% from low socioeconomic status areas (4.7% unknown).
  • 61% of commencing Australian permanent resident medical students in 1996 were born in Australia, 6.3% in the United Kingdom and Europe, 3.0% in other European countries, 25.7% in Asian countries, and the remainder elsewhere.


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