The clock keeps ticking

7 Aug 2017

The AMA Council of Doctors in Training (CDT) represents every doctor in Australia from internship through to those final years of fellowship. The work continues around the clock, but we meet three times a year in person to work through major issues affecting doctors in training across the country. This last July saw the second meeting for the year take place in Canberra, as doctors from all corners and colleges of Australia met for the weekend to work through the agenda.

The flagship focus for the meeting was the launch of the Safe Hours Audit. Since 1999, the AMA has had a focus on safe working hours, and every five years we run an audit of working hours across the country. The unfortunate news from this audit was that the gradual improvement that we’ve seen every five years has come to a halt. Maybe it’s a sign of the increased pressure on an already under-resourced system, but for whatever reason we’ve reached a plateau. With far too many doctors still working unsafe hours, it’s time to take stock of what this means and see what we as a profession can do about it. There are critics out there who believe that any talk of safe hours means a heavily regulated 38 hours working week. For those who have read the National Code of Practice that the AMA has published on safe working hours, you’ll know that we don’t call for a single set of hours on a perfect template roster. Medicine is complicated, and our hours are complicated. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work smarter. Rosters need to be written with fatigue management as one of the highest priorities. We need to now focus on what these results mean for those specialties most at risk and see if we can’t do things smarter than we have been.

A large portion of the meeting was spent on doctors’ health, wellbeing and safety. This is an area that has generated a huge amount of the attention during the year thus far but the problem with attention is that it moves on to the next big headline. For us, this isn’t an area where we leave after the media have come and gone. This is our livelihood. Your livelihood. To that end, we consolidated what has happened in the year so far. We heard from all States and Territories about targeted and broad initiatives across the country. We heard from beyondblue on a new guide for health services on how to develop and implement a mental health and wellbeing strategy. We heard from Doctors Health Services on progress so far and the work still yet to come. Most importantly, we continued to focus our work on a good practice framework, for all health organisations across the country to make healthy doctors a workforce priority. There is a lot of work scheduled for the second half of the year, so keep informed and we’ll keep you updated.

Medical education and training also had its time in the sun. Having started in 2015 in Western Australia, we’re now seeing Hospital Health Checks being run by AMA branches across the country, with work ongoing for those States and Territories working on starting them up. We have commenced work on a standardised set of questions, so that for the first time 2018 should see us able to compare conditions in hospitals all over Australia, to better inform your training experience. A National Training Survey has been on our agenda for at least the last five years. Through persistence and keeping our eye on the prize, we’re finally starting to see those first sprouts from the seeds. We had a conversation with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) on what a National Training Survey might look like in Australia, and how it can help to enhance the training of doctors in training in all corners of Australia. We will continue this dialogue with the MBA and keep you updated as these shoots grow higher and higher.

These of course are just the big ticket items. The two days move at a furious pace, including reports from every single State and Territory, many of the training colleges, and all arms of the AMA. And like all good meetings, we always seem to generate more work than we began with. You are represented at the table by some of the most passionate doctors I’ve had the privilege of working with, and I guarantee you that your profession is in safe hands. If you want to know more about CDT, then I recommend you get involved with your local State or Territory branch. Come along to the meetings, get to know the people involved, and hear more about the work that your AMA does for you around the clock.

Until next time,


Dr John Zorbas

Chair AMA Council of Doctors in Training