The doctor in your town could well be have been supported through university by the Rural Australian Medical Undergraduate Scholarship (RAMUS) Scheme. The National Rural Health Alliance, which administers the Australian Government funded RAMUS Scheme, has conducted a research project to investigate whether the Scheme, which specifically supports medical students with a rural or remote background, has been effective in helping to alleviate the doctor shortage in rural and remote Australia. Between 2000, when the RAMUS Scheme began, and 2016 more than 2,000 students who grew up in a rural or remote area have graduated from an Australian university medical course with the assistance of the Scheme.
The project tracked graduated RAMUS scholarship holders to determine whether they have returned to practice in a rural or remote area post-graduation. It located 1,741 former scholarship holders and matched their current location to the university attended and their home address at the age of five, using data from their initial scholarship application and the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Authority (AHPRA) website (https://www.ahpra.gov.au).
Where are former scholarship holders from?
Just under 50 per cent of scholarships were awarded to applicants who were living in an area classified as Inner regional (RA2) under the ASGC-RA classification at the age of five years; 32 per cent were awarded to those living in an Outer regional location (RA3); seven per cent in a Remote location (RA4); and two per cent in a Very remote area (RA5). While 12 per cent of scholarships were awarded to applicants whose address was in a Major city location (RA1) at the age of five years, to be eligible for the scholarship they would have lived in rural locations in later years before commencing university.
Which universities did they attend?
RAMUS scholars have attended every Australian university offering a standard medical course.
The project found that universities located in Inner regional or Outer regional areas have a higher percentage of former scholarship holders practising in rural and remote areas. All the former scholarship holders who attended the Flinders University NT Medical Program have remained in a rural or remote area while the next highest percentage of former scholars remaining in a rural or remote area attended James Cook University in Townsville.
Where they are now?
In 2017, 35 per cent of former RAMUS scholarship holders were registered and practising in a rural or remote area. It must be noted that more than half the former RAMUS scholars have graduated since 2010, meaning that many are based in metropolitan areas while completing their post-graduate training. It is expected that some of these will move to a rural or remote area once they have completed their training and begin practising.
Twenty per cent of former scholars are registered in a specialty; 114 as general practitioners and 226 in other specialties. Sixty three percent of the general practitioners and 19 per cent of the other specialists are practising in a rural or remote Australian area. Sixty former scholars are practising/training in the same postcode as their home address at the age of five.
A tracking map (http://ramus.ruralhealth.org.au/map) shows the journey taken by people who grew up in the bush to study medicine and have then gone on to train and practise. Search fields include where former RAMUS scholarship holders have come from, their university, scholarship start and end dates and their place of practice.
The RAMUS Scheme is now closed to new applicants and will wind down as current scholarship holders graduate from university. Around 250 scholarship holders are yet to graduate.