AMA sends SOS to retired doctors  January 10, 2010 Jill Stark - The Age

RETIRED doctors could be lured back to public hospitals because there are not enough experienced clinicians available to teach medical graduates wanting to specialise as surgeons, obstetricians and cardiologists. The proposal, contained in the Australian Medical Association state budget submission, has received widespread support. The AMA is calling for $68 million over four years to hire recent retirees to mentor graduates in specialties with chronic shortages. As 557 medical graduates prepare to start as interns in Victorian hospitals on Wednesday, the AMA fears many will be unable to continue studying and plug gaps in fields such as oncology, neurosurgery and gynaecology because there are not enough postgraduate training places. Advertisement The submission urges the State Government to pay 70 retirees each year to work part-time in public hospitals as mentors to young doctors. An ageing medical workforce and frustration with stretched resources are blamed for specialists leaving the public system. Each retiree would work an average of two four-hour shifts a week to accommodate 150 extra training places needed to address the shortfall, according to AMA calculations. Kevin Macdonald, chairman of AMA Victoria's retired doctors group, said the plan would be attractive to many who had recently left the profession. ''I've had quite a number of doctors say to me that you sort of fall into a vacuum after you retire. These are people who have been at the top of their profession for a very long time and for them to suddenly wander off into the wild blue yonder, it's pretty daunting,'' Dr Macdonald said. ''Altruistically, I think there would be a lot who would be very prepared to do it because they still want to give something back as well.'' However, Dr Macdonald added that older doctors returning to the workforce would need refresher courses. ''Unless you've been in active contact with either university or hospital practice when you've been out of the workforce five or six years you get out of touch pretty quickly. ''There can also be quite a cultural gap. You wouldn't want someone who's 90 mentoring a 24-year-old doctor,'' he said. Funding from the state and federal governments is set to boost medical graduate ranks in Victoria by 121 per cent, from 347 in 2007 to a predicted 768 in 2014. AMA Victoria president Harry Hemley welcomed the influx but warned it would be a wasted investment if not backed by funding for postgraduate training, which can see doctors study for another five to eight years to become specialists. A Victorian Government spokesman said that since 2008, they had spent more than $34 million on a specialist medical training program, which had delivered 347 new training places. Dr Hemley said more was needed. ''If we don't find solutions to the shortage of specialist teachers and mentors, and increase the number of specialist training places, we will have a large group of underskilled doctors working in our public hospital system. Waits for elective surgery and outpatient clinic appointments will increase and patient outcomes will suffer.'' Where the need is Specialties in most need of extra training places: ■ Cardiology ■ Endocrinology ■ Gastroenterology ■ General medicine ■ General surgery ■ Geriatric medicine ■ Medical oncology ■ Neurology SOURCE: VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT

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