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26 June 2012

Things I wish I knew before leaving Canada

As many of you already know, I could not get a medical training spot in Canada, as the system is so competitive that there are 5-6 QUALIFIED applicants for every med school spot, and provincial bias makes it even tougher. So Rob and I explored or options elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Australia has been a great place to live, and a great place to learn.  But not seeing a job at the end of the work and debt is very unnerving.  Bettina Arndt, a social commentator, was published today, June 26, 2012 in the Australian:

Education system turns its back on young doctors
        FOR months now, the saga over Australia's failure to complete the training of international medical students has been in the headlines, with up to 500 of them facing the prospect of missing out on the vital internship year. The latest slap in the face for these students came last week with the Victorian Health Department's decision to suddenly change the criteria for allocating their internships, effectively locking out international students from their merit-based system. Victoria had been the only state offering such a system to these students and many of them had completed the application process only to be told in the hour before applications closed they would not be This bizarre, insensitive action is merely the latest in a sorry tale of incompetent decisions, buck-passing and policy failures that have left these students stranded, damaging Australia's reputation as an appropriate provider in this most prestigious area of professional education.
       It isn't as if the crisis came as a surprise. Ten years ago the decision was made to respond to a shortage of doctors by opening new medical schools and increasing class sizes, welcoming many high fee paying international students to help subsidise the costs of the courses. In the decade to 2009, the proportion of international medical students grew by 223 per cent compared with 52 per cent for domestic students. Last year 16 per cent of graduating medical students comprised international students who had paid about $60,000 a year for their course. It has long been known the crisis would hit home this year. Domestic students rightly are given priority for intern places but, as their numbers have gradually increased, international students have been left with fewer opportunities for the hospital training required for them to practice medicine in this This year the demand for internship places greatly outstripped supply yet many of our state health departments are still pretending it's not their problem. Their concern is the cost of this training, yet the hospital system is propped up by employing large numbers of international medical graduates - who some in the system refer to impolitely as cannon fodder - working under supervision in our hospitals. That's the crazy thing; visas are handed out to about 3500 foreign doctors each year, including recent graduates from some universities that aren't so well regarded, with many paid to work in Australian hospitals while our well-trained international students can't find places. Many of the locally trained international students show a strong commitment to remaining in this country. Research by Lesleyanne Hawthorne from the University of Melbourne showed 78 per cent of international medical students completed their internships in Australia, 99 per cent were employed in medicine within four months of that time and were likelier than domestic students to work in regional areas. It makes far more sense to offer opportunities to these locally trained graduates than continue to import international medical graduates who may not have the interest or the knowledge base required to make it through the tough entry requirements for joining our permanent medical workforce. Health Workforce Australia predictions assume these locally trained students will form part of our future medical workforce. So why isn't more being done to make sure this happens? This issue was on the agenda at the recent meeting of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council, which commissioned urgent work to quantify the shortfall in internships and possible solutions. Hopefully this may lead to policy changes beyond the scramble to find intern places in private hospitals. The proper approach requires the states to rethink their employment of hospital medical staff to include more interns instead of international medical Extra places could also be created by spreading the significant workload on our current interns, given many of these hard-working young people are being paid overtime for working extra shifts, with consequent risks to their health, let alone that of their patients. Training a medical student costs about $85,000 a year. With the international students paying about $60,000, this means each of the present crop of 2500 international medical students studying in Australia will cost us about $100,000 for their four-year programs. It's a dreadful waste of money if failure to provide the critical final year of their hospital-based training means we force them to leave the country. But the issue here is also about fair treatment for young people who were often not properly informed about the risks of this happening and who must deal with their stressful courses with the added burden of constant uncertainty about their future. These smart kids rightly feel let down by Australia's incompetent handling of this issue and, if they are forced to leave, news of the deficiencies in our higher education system will travel with them.
Bettina Arndt is a social commentator.

And now the word of their deficiencies is out.  My advice to Canadians wishing to train as a physician in Australia?  Stay home and find something else to fulfil your career passion.  You will end up with a lot less debt and uncertainty.

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  1. Although I know for fact that international student tuition pays for national student fee shortfall. The state and federal budget does not sink a dime into my education here.

  2. Barb, Sorry to hear of this, but I am not surprised. Medicine is not the only profession that takes this hit in AU. I did not know you well enough four years ago to burst your enthusiac bubble for your future. My ex-husband is very qualified to his trade in Australia but unfortunately for him it did not transfer to his new life in the USA so he is currently working in home renovation and not in his trained career.


  3. to be fair, they told us at orientation that we were not guaranteed a job in Australia when we finish.

  4. That's true. But when I was recruited they said "No one has had trouble getting a job in QLD if they wanted to stay". They knew that this problem was coming.