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Wasted degrees: hundreds of students may miss internship

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18th Sep 2012
Byron Kaye   all articles by this author

HUNDREDS of medical students – with millions of dollars’ worth of degrees – face missing out on becoming doctors while governments and Health Workforce Australia (HWA) pass the buck on preventing the nation’s first shortfall of intern places.

The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) warned last week that with three months until 2013 internships start, 235 medical graduates were yet to gain a position – more than double the shortfall at the same time last year. Typically it takes three months to accredit an intern position.

AMSA president James Churchill said denying medical graduates internships – leaving them unable to become doctors – was a bad return on investment for taxpayers who helped fund the degrees and for the experienced clinicians who educated them without payment.

“It’s a significant waste of public money, it’s a significant waste of valuable clinical resources, and to be producing doctors that we are not able to allow to continue training as doctors is madness,” Mr Churchill told MO.

Each state has its own intern allocation system but most give priority to Australian citizens, meaning full fee paying international students would be first to miss out.

However, some states give preference to students who went to medical school in that state, meaning Australians who attended university interstate and want to return home risk wasting their degree.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said state governments had committed to giving internships to all Commonwealth-funded graduates and “any state… seeking to move away from established practices needs to consider the risks this might pose to the system”.

“Commentators should be cautious in their predictions” until final internship demand was known and “HWA has been charged with improving national coordination of internship placement and training”, the spokesperson said.

An HWA spokesperson said the agency was supporting governments, students and medical schools but “understands that the Commonwealth and jurisdictions are currently developing a comprehensive response to address the 2013 intern situation”.

Opposition parliamentary secretary for regional health Andrew Laming said the HWA must call a summit of government and health leaders to solve the crisis. More rotation options such as in Aboriginal health or aged care could allow for more internships.

Adelaide graduate Daina Rudaks said all SA graduates received internships but “it’s an incredibly bittersweet time for all of us – happy to have got my position but when you’re waiting for your friends to hear back as to whether they’ll be joining you next year, it’s a bit tough”.

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