3 May 2017

I’ve always thought that two years is a good time in any particular role to achieve what you set out to achieve. It’s enough time to get to know the role, get to know the organisation, work out what needs doing and then get it done. It also prevents you from hanging around, like a haunting spectre, preventing the organisation from evolving and moving on. Sh*t, or get off the pot. The halfway point is always a great time to take stock of your progress and see if you’re on track to achieve what you set out to achieve. And for my role in the Council of Doctors in Training, this May marks that halfway point.

So, have we achieved what we set out to achieve? Mostly, yes. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank the CDT secretariat in Canberra, and the many doctors in training across the country who volunteer their time to form CDT. We’re on track to complete over 90% of our stated goals, and that is an achievement not to been minimised.

If it takes you more than a page to explain, you’re not explaining it properly, so we started by simplifying our mission to “Represent the interests of doctors in training in Australia”. There’s more than 30,000 of us and this is by no means a simple task. Since last May our work has been endless, and for those of you who follow this progress, you would know about our major achievements. We’ve developed guidelines on flexible work arrangements to help employers and trainees achieve greater work-life balance. We’ve passed statements on best practices in assessment to help guide these assessments in a fair and transparent manner. We’ve conducted our Safe Hours Audit and are finalising the report as we speak, to highlight the wins and losses in rosters across the country. But this, and more, is all for the annual report. I don’t have the space and you don’t have the time for me to wax lyrical on what has worked well. I’d like to talk about what hasn’t.

Our workforce is, quite simply, a mess. Thanks to a lack of action from both State and Federal governments, we find ourselves in the bizarre situation of having too many doctors and not enough doctors. It takes a special kind of neglect to end up with two opposing problems simultaneously. The workforce is in DIC: it’s one of my favourite and nerdiest analogies. When the then Federal government dissolved Health Workforce Australia, we had the National Medical Training Advisory Network rise from its ashes. NMTAN is working with medical colleges, governments and other stakeholders to provide oversight to our doctor oversupply and shortage. While the work is good, the AMA fears that it will be too little too late. NMTAN do not currently have the resources required to fix the problem. It’s up to us as the AMA to continue to press government on these issues, especially when that same government continues to introduce new medical schools with more students places, while hoodwinking the public into thinking they’ll get more rural doctors. We know this isn’t good progress and we continue to oppose misdirected measures that don’t have an evidence base, or even common sense behind them.

It’s no secret that trainee health and wellbeing is a major issue for doctors in training. This has been a standing item on our agenda for as long as I can remember. There are a number of programs across the country that specifically target doctor suicide and health as a whole, and some do so quite successfully. There are two major deficiencies however: we still don’t know specifically why doctors suicide, and we don’t talk to each other across the country about what works and what doesn’t. To that end, CDT are proposing a national strategic framework on doctor health and suicide. This is going to take a long time to get right, and it’s going to require a lot of input from stakeholders across the country. The goal is not to develop a “one size fits all” implementation document, but rather a framework in which everyone’s position is visible, and networks of doctors, employers of doctors and those responsible for doctors can work together to provide the best possible environment for doctors. We’re in early stages, so please keep an eye on our communications and your local State committees for more information.

Finally, communication remains a challenge. I’m not an AMA member because of unquestioning loyalty. I’m a member because from my involvement over the years, I’ve seen just how important these issues are and how crucial the AMA is to successful resolution of these issues. I’ve seen rosters change, I’ve seen culture change and I’ve seen the profession evolve… all as a direct result of AMA action. My main goal for these two years was to make this work more visible to you, the doctor in training member, and that still remains my primary goal. CDT continue to scope the best ways of doing this, and good communication needs a good system, so this won’t be rushed. It will change the way you interact with CDT, and my hope is for a more open and transparent flow of information.

But enough about the work to be done. I’ve run out of space and you’ve run out of time. One year is down, and the next is ready to go. Here’s to a productive future!

Until next time,


Dr John Zorbas

Chair, AMA Council of Doctors in Training