Training program brings more doctors to regional Queensland

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Hervey Bay Hospital Workplace-Based Assessment (WBA) Clinical Lead, Dr Ajith Thampi says the WBA pathway is helping provide more doctors for regional Queensland hospitals and general practices.

Hervey Bay Hospital Workplace-Based Assessment (WBA) Clinical Lead, Dr Ajith Thampi says the WBA pathway is helping provide more doctors for regional Queensland hospitals and general practices.

An assessment program for internationally trained doctors that encourages them to work regionally is proving to be successful in the Wide Bay.

The Workplace-Based Assessment (WBA) pathway provides an alternative assessment process for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) to obtain general registration to practice in Australia.

The program has been running in Hervey Bay Hospital for nine years, expanding to Bundaberg Hospital at the end of 2023.

Hervey Bay Hospital WBA Clinical Lead, Dr Ajith Thampi, said the program allows doctors to work under supervision with real patients, leaving the program more well-rounded having been supported through challenging, real-life experiences.

“All IMGs are required to undergo a comprehensive, mandatory assessment process before they receive registration to practice in Australia, including a theory exam and a clinical exam,” Dr Thampi said.

“The clinical exam uses mock scenarios with actors pretending to be patients in clinical scenarios, and as part of their assessment, IMGs need to demonstrate how they would hypothetically provide care to these patients.”

The 12-month placement sees the doctors work under close supervision on real patients in real scenarios, replacing the clinical exam for IMGs who choose it.

The WBA tests are held over an extended period and determines whether the candidate has adequate and appropriate clinical skills and professional qualities to practice safely.

While the program is a longer process, requiring more structure, trainers, increased supervision, and resourcing than a mock clinical exam, the outcomes are impressive.

Doctors who complete the program are more likely to remain in the region, from eight months prior to the program’s implementation to nearly three years.

Around 22 per cent of Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service’s WBA graduates continue to serve the community as local GPs across the region.

Elpida Savvidou is a current participant in the program, and said there are many benefits to working in a regional community.

Doctor Elpida Savvidou is a participant in the Workplace Based Assessment program.

“It provides a workforce for rural areas because we have a lot of job offers and we don’t have enough doctors to take these jobs, unfortunately” Dr Savvidou said.

“International (doctors) are happy to do that and willing to do that.”

Dr Thampi said there is high demand for the program, which has become a valuable recruiting tool.

“In regional Queensland, we experience some real challenges with attracting and retaining workforce , both local and overseas trained doctors,” Dr Thampi said.

Already, more than 100 doctors have completed the program in Hervey Bay, with another 28 candidates in various stages of the 12-month program.

Around 22 per cent of Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service’s WBA graduates continue to serve the community as local GPs across the region.

More than 50 trained assessors volunteer their time to support the development of doctors on the program.

For supervisors like Dr Thampi, it is rewarding to be involved with the program.

“We receive applications from very experienced, proficient and qualified IMGs who want to participate in this program,” he said.

“We recently had an ICU junior doctor position filled by a highly-experienced, intensive care and anaesthetics IMG.

"This program is better for the doctors, it's better for the patients and it’s better for the hospital.”