CQUni in talks with regional health boards to establish a medical school

Published:09 March 2018

TOP: CQUni VC Professor Scott Bowman (right) with CQ Health Chief Executive Steve Williamson. BELOW: CQUni Associate VC (Bundaberg and Wide Bay Region) Professor Andy Bridges (left) with WBHHS Chief Executive Adrian Pennington.

CQUniversity could be training its first student doctors at a new medical school on its Rockhampton and Bundaberg campuses by 2021.

Vice-Chancellor Scott Bowman has written to the Australian Medical Council regarding the University's plan for a feasibility study to launch an innovative medical course in partnership with Central Queensland and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Services.

The University is already training hundreds of students in a large range of health services, in Rockhampton, Bundaberg and several other locations, and Professor Bowman said the timing was right for the region to take the next step towards a fully-fledged medical school.

“At the moment we (CQUniversity) deliver a full spectrum of health-related courses including nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, medical imaging, oral health and medical science - everything apart from medicine.

“We think it’s time the region was training its own doctors,” he said.

“It has always been a challenge to attract skilled medical professionals to the regions.

“This challenge led CQUniversity to establish a number of allied health courses in the past decade which has helped to fill regional skills shortages.

“The success of this approach has meant we have had further discussions with the Central Queensland and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Services about their future needs.

“From these discussions, there has been a consensus that training doctors locally would be a beneficial and logical next step.”

“We know if you look at the experience of JCU (James Cook University in Townsville) about 80 per cent of the doctors in North and Far North Queensland who are trained up there stay up there.

“We want our people to be able to train as doctors and deliver their skills to our local communities.”

The “absolute best case scenario” for the start-up of a medical school would see the first students commence their training in 2021.

The early estimates would involve between 20 to 30 medical students at the Rockhampton and Bundaberg campuses in partnership with Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service.

The medical school could offer a four-year postgraduate medical degree on top of a completed three-year undergraduate course, such as medical science.

“They do their medical training and after that into general practitioner training, a basic medical or surgical degree, and then specialise after that,” Professor Bowman explained.

“We would be working with clinicians in the hospitals. Some of the clinicians would become professors and teach into the medical degrees.”

Professor Bowman said setting up the school would include obtaining the necessary accreditations, securing the staff and acquiring the extra facilities and specialised equipment.

He said this was a challenging process but the university was determined to push ahead with its vision for the region despite negotiating the impact of the Federal Government’s proposed funding freeze for new students.

Representatives from both Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service have shared their support for the prospect of partnering with CQUniversity to establish a medical school.

CQ Health Chief Executive Steve Williamson said the University’s plan worked perfectly with the health service’s long-term vision: Destination 2030: Great Care for Central Queenslanders.

“A partnership between CQ Health, Wide Bay Health and CQUniversity to develop a medical school is an extremely exciting prospect for our staff, but more importantly for the people of Central Queensland and the Wide Bay,” Mr Williamson said.

“It would also be the first step to our ultimate aim of gaining University Hospital status.

“It will also be a massive boost to the economic viability of Rockhampton, Gladstone, Emerald and Biloela, and our neighbours in the Wide Bay,” Mr Williamson said.

The Wide Bay Hospital and Health Board has welcomed the prospect of a CQUniversity medical school, saying it would change the face of doctor recruitment and retention in the Wide Bay and Central Queensland regions.

“Planning for the future is a crucial part of health service delivery, and that includes planning for a future workforce,” WBHH Board Chair Peta Jamieson said.

“The Board believes the establishment of a medical school would be a significant development as we continually strive to work with our partners in providing the best possible care for our community.”

WBHHS Chief Executive Adrian Pennington said the allocation of local medical training places had been a long-time goal because of its impact on growing junior doctors into a locally sustainable medical workforce.

“We’ve been working in partnership with CQUniversity for several years now on the development of a medical school, so it’s a pleasure to see it becoming closer to reality,” Mr Pennington said.

“This would be a game-changer for the recruitment and retention of a sustainable local medical workforce, and opens a world of opportunities when it comes to shaping our healthcare services.

“We know that when doctors train in a regional area, they’re more likely to stay on and work there – which is great news for Wide Bay patients, as well as the wider local economy both in our region and in Central Queensland.

“We already retain a high number of junior doctors who do their intern year with us. A partnership that enables us to educate them and provide strong career progression in one place gives us an even better chance of growing and keeping good senior doctors, as they develop social and support networks locally.

“A medical school would also bring new roles to our organisations and would help attract senior clinicians to our region, which would help bridge that 1200 km gap in tertiary hospital services between Townsville and Brisbane.”