International medical students: the unlucky few | AMA (WA)


International medical students: the unlucky few

Sunday July 1, 2012

There has been a lot of focus within the media and medical profession regarding the provision of adequate internship placements for medical school graduates in the coming year.

This is a particularly pertinent subject as the final year students at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle (UNDF) have completed their 2013 internship applications and await job offers in the coming weeks.

At this point in time, for those of us who are Australian citizens, permanent residents or New Zealand citizens (domestic graduates), an internship is a mere formality.

We are fortunate enough to have a guaranteed job in WA next year and are thus merely waiting to see the hospital in which we will be placed. This is a luxury we enjoy but it is not guaranteed in the future and not for some at the present time.

Spare a thought for our international graduate colleagues. For them, the waiting game has much higher stakes. Internships are allocated on a priority basis, with WA domestic graduates guaranteed an internship, domestic graduates of non-WA universities allocated second, and international medical students from WA universities falling into the third-priority category.

With the increased number of graduates Australia-wide and the corresponding pressure on the number of internship positions, the possibility arises that WA-trained international students will miss out on an internship in preference for domestic graduates from other states. I certainly feel for my colleagues at this uncertain time.

As many of you may be aware, the Postgraduate Medical Council of Victoria (PMCV) recently changed the order of priority for the allocation of internships in its state for 2013.

Domestic graduates from Victorian universities remain as the first priority group. However, international medical graduates of Victorian universities were, this year, moved into the second priority position, with all other applicants falling into a third category.

I know that this has caused much disturbance in the eastern states, particularly with Tasmanian university graduates worried that they will be unable to get an internship. In fact, fellow WA students who were planning to complete their internships in Victoria were also very disappointed by this decision.

How does the PMCV decision relate to WA? Firstly, international medical students trained in WA have many advantages compared to graduates from interstate.

They have an intimate working knowledge of the WA health system with experience in both tertiary hospitals, the community and in rural settings. They have so much to offer on top of their first-class training, often bringing a unique perspective due to their international background.

In Australia’s multicultural society, such diversity is invaluable. With this being the case, it is no wonder that the PMCV wanted to keep these graduates in its state.

The problem arises when there are discrepancies in the priority allocation systems between different states.

As it stands, a domestic student with a guaranteed job in another state can apply to WA and potentially take the job of a WA international graduate. This international graduate would then have no real opportunity to complete their internship anywhere else in Australia, as they are ranked as a much lower priority outside of their home state.

The fact that a WA-trained international graduate who has paid a considerable sum of money to complete his/her degree (much of which subsidises domestic students), should miss out on the opportunity for an internship, merely because a domestic graduate wishes to move interstate, seems to smack of injustice.

Their goal posts have been moved just as they come to achieve graduation, and this is ill conceived.

So, what is the worth of international medical students? Are they valuable members of the medical community that can provide a great contribution to the health of all Australians? Or are they merely a disposable way for universities to make some big cash?

The lack of forethought and planning for the medical workforce has given rise to the internship crisis that we see today and only a considered, well-coordinated and appropriately-funded system can address these issues.

Either we drop the haphazard quick fix and adopt a long-term solution or we run the risk of losing these fantastic, locally-trained doctors forever.

Benjamin Host