Doctor's partners influence where GPs practise

Monday, 28 February 2000

Doctors' partners play a key role in determining whether GPs choose to work in the city or the country, an important new study has found.

The survey of 500 South Australian GPs has established that doctors with partners from rural backgrounds are twice as likely as urban doctors to base themselves in regional areas. Education has also emerged as a significant influence, with rural doctors twice as likely to have attended a country primary school.

The results are important for policy makers seeking to address the medical skills shortage in rural areas.

The study was conducted by a partnership between the South Australian Centre for Rural and Remote Health (SACRRH) of Adelaide University and the University of South Australia, the South Australian Rural and Remote Medical Support Agency (SARRMSA) and Adelaide University's Department of General Practice.

Study leader Professor David Wilkinson of SACRRH, based in Whyalla, said the survey compared the backgrounds of rural and urban GPs currently working in South Australia. "We focussed on where the doctors grew up as children, where they were educated as children and whether their partners had a rural background. The reason for the study is that the Commonwealth government is spending millions of dollars on encouraging rural kids to enter medical school in the expectation that they will become rural doctors. We wanted to see if this assertion is true," he said.

The Head of Adelaide University's Department of General Practice, Dr Justin Beilby, said: "Our results show that rural doctors are more likely to report having grown up in the country: 37% compared with 27%. They were also more likely to have had primary education there: 33% compared with 19%. However, the biggest difference in the two groups was in the background of their partners: 49% of rural GPs compared with 24% of urban GPs reported having a partner with a rural background."

Dr David Thompson, Medical Director of SAARRMSA, said the research team knew family issues were important for rural GPs but had not expected to find the rural background of partners was so influential.

"Our study may have important policy implications," Dr Thompson said. "The findings support the government's push to encourage rural kids to enter medical school and to support them with scholarships when they are there.

"However, current scholarships and support focus on kids doing year 12 in the country. Our study indicates that kids who had primary education in the country are more likely to become rural GPs, and so perhaps the focus needs to change. We need to be more innovative in our thinking about the factors that influence future location of practice, and then develop policies accordingly."

Professor Wilkinson said the rural medical workforce shortage would not be solved by dealing with doctors in isolation. "We need a much broader approach, one that encompasses partners and families, and one that strengthens the rural infrastructure, ensuring that rural children can stay in the country for a high quality education, should they so wish".


Contact Details

Professor David Wilkinson
Business: +61 8 8647 6089

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
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Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
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