Turning the tide

7 Dec 2017

It’s been a wild ride this year, and you know it’s time to sit back and reflect on it when the Christmas decorations start appearing in the shops. So, let’s do exactly that. How did your AMA Council of Doctors in Training (AMACDT) do this year? Did we achieve what we set out to achieve? 

Firstly, let me paint the picture of who we are for those of you wondering exactly how the AMA works. The AMA has a federated structure. There is an AMA in every State and Territory, and together they make up the Federal AMA. As an AMA member, you are a member of both your State and the Federal branch. Both are essential to the success of the AMA and forwarding the cause of doctors and their patients, and both wouldn’t work without the other. So when it comes to doctor-in-training issues, you are represented by both your State/Territory AMA, and by the Federal AMA. The AMACDT is the Federal part of the AMA that focuses exclusively on issues that affect doctors-in-training. 

Our mission is a simple one: to represent the interest of doctors-in-training in Australia. There’s a large group of us. We’re talking about over 30,000 doctors from interns all the way through to new fellows. We focus on three key areas of commonality:

  1. Medical education and training
  2. Doctors’ health, wellbeing and safety
  3. Engagement and communication 

Everything we do relates back to these three domains, and now is as good a time as any to think about how we did in 2017. 

Medical education and training has always been at the core of our work plan. It defines a lot of who we are as doctors-in-training, and without clear oversight of medical education and training, you lose Australia’s medical workforce and the profession. This relationship has been challenging over the last few years, and yet it's where we’ve done some of our best work. We’ve worked tirelessly with the Department of Health to model each and every medical specialty in Australia, allowing us to get key insights into where the oversupply and undersupply in the workforce lies. Some of the most crucial modelling (e.g general practice and RACP specialties) is underway as we speak, and we’ll continue the pressure, especially on the work needed in the pre-vocational space. We’ve been calling for a National Training Survey (NTS) for over five years now, to help provide key information on the quality of medical education in Australia. This year saw a major turning point on this project, with agreed funding and governance for the NTS. Expect to see it in 2018/2019 as we work with the Medical Board of Australia on this project. We’ve campaigned strongly on bonded medical places (BMP), and are in the process of working with government to remodel the way BMP and MRBS works in Australia, to the benefit of the department, the doctors and to Australia’s rural population. We’ve made countless submissions to the Australian Medical Council on your colleges, and we’ve helped highlight problem areas in a way that helps protect the anonymity of trainees. The list goes on. It’s a core element of what we do and it always will be. 

The profile of doctors’ health has exploded, and this is a good thing. We only wish that those in positions of authority had been singing our tune earlier. Doctors’ health is not foreign territory to the AMA. We’ve had positions on safe work environments, on doctors’ mental health and on doctor well being for a long time now. When we lost our Deputy Chair to suicide in early 2017, it didn’t change our direction but merely strengthened our resolve. We have made major advances in this space over the year, with Minister for Health Greg Hunt announcing significant funding for the mental health of healthcare workers at our very own AMA National Conference. The AMA, with funding from the Medical Board of Australia, established the Doctors’ Health Services Pty Ltd and this year has seen continued growth and development of local services. Our approach has been one of systems focus, and we firmly believe that you can’t just “resilient your way out of suicide”. This battle has been a slow one, but 2017 has been a flashpoint for change and we plan to continue pushing. 

Engagement and communication is the last of our domains to reflect on, and to be honest it’s one of our most formidable. I believe that one of the biggest hurdles facing AMACDT is how we communicate all of the amazing work that we do to you. Over the last two years, we’ve brought stronger protections to the openness and transparency of CDT, and we’ve worked hard to engage more of you with our face-to-face meetings, but not everyone is able to fly to Canberra for a weekend. The CDT Executive is focusing on a more developed model for sharing information to you via social media, and on a model for more involvement with our working groups. Are you interested in asylum seeker health? We want to hear from about where we should be focusing. Are you a bonded DiT? We want to talk to you to. New fellow? New graduate? Country doctor? City doctor? Part-time doctor? All of you. Channeling 30,000 voices is hard, but not insurmountable. 

So that’s the extremely brief scorecard. Turning the tide is slow work, and I wish we could get it done faster, but we haven’t wavered and it’s nice to look back at the year to see just how far we’ve come. So what’s the tally? Well that’s easy: that’s our membership. Every new member is another run on the scoreboard! Every one we lose is an opportunity to reflect on why. If you don’t already, follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/amacdt/) to keep up to date, and as always you can drop me a line on cdt.chair@ama.com.au

In the meantime, enjoy the coming holiday season and rest easy: you’ve definitely earned it. I’m proud to be part of such a hard working profession, and I’m proud to fight for what we deserve.