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Plibersek moves to fix internship crisis

A breakthrough in the medical internship crisis could be imminent, reports Natasha Gillezeau.

More than 150 medical graduates still need to find placements. Photo: phalinn via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0 More than 150 medical graduates still need to find placements. Photo: phalinn via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0
More than 150 medical graduates still need to find placements. Photo: phalinn via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

A breakthrough in the medical internship crisis could be imminent, with the federal government close to finding states willing to take on the additional interns.

According to the “Intern Crisis” campaign organisers, up to 182 medical school graduates throughout Australia have been left without an internship offer for next year, effectively rendering their medical degrees useless. Only $18 million is required from the government to give these international students the internships they need.

The Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek has agreed to fund $10 million on the condition that the states co-operate to provide the remaining $8 million. Intransigence from NSW and Victoria has so far stalled any agreement, but a high-level source within the “Intern Crisis” campaign has told Honi Soit: “Ms Plibersek is working hard to secure a deal with other state governments, with whom success is much more likely.”

The positive news comes after Nationals Senator Fiona Nash delivered a stinging criticism of the government in the Senate last week. Senator Nash accused the minister representing the Minister for Health, Joe Ludwig, of a lack of understanding about the urgency of the crisis, describing his response to her questions as “frankly bizarre”.

“He boasts about the government providing two billion dollars for medical training, whilst at the same time refusing to budge on the paltry eight million dollars needed to fix this problem,” Senator Nash said.

Haris Noor, a Malaysian international student who graduated with a medical degree from Monash University this year, said Ms Nash’s speech came at a critical time in boosting the morale of those who have been fighting to stay.

“It was such an inspiring speech. It came to the point when it was like is anyone really hearing this? Is anyone taking notice? When we saw it we were encouraged and it rekindled our spark,” he said.

Mr Noor received an email in August telling him he was left jobless next year, a possibility he had no warning of when starting his degree.

The internship is an essential component of students’ medical degrees that allow them to receive accreditation from the Australian Medical Association to proceed to the next step of training towards becoming a doctor.

Mr Noor says he is willing to work anywhere at this stage.

“Even if I have to commute two or three hours to work, then so be it. I just have to stay. I’m not being picky. I would be thankful for any internship offer I could get.’

Benjamin Veness, incoming president of Australian Medical Students’ Association and in his third year of medicine at Sydney University, says that while Nash’s speech was encouraging, the crisis remains unresolved.

“It seems right now they’re all pretty happy playing a game of chicken to see who blinks first, whether it’s the states of the feds who end up funding them,” he told Honi Soit.

Australia is projected to be short 3000 doctors by the year 2025 even if all domestic and international students currently in the system are retained.

Stephanie Andriputri, an international student in her final year studying medicine at the University of New South Wales, cannot get permanent residency until she completes an internship despite having lived in Sydney since year 10.

“The internship is an assumed progression from our degree. It’s compulsory for us to do. Without it, we can’t practice as a doctor, we can’t do anything,” she said.

Ms Andriputri has a long-term Australian boyfriend who is currently on his intern year, and with her life firmly rooted here she has no desire to go back to Indonesia. She has first hand experience of the impact of the doctor shortage from working at St George hospital, where she is currently spending her final term.

“They don’t even have an intern, so I actually have to do all the intern’s work anyway because they are struggling so much. The whole situation is ridiculous,” she said.

The Dean of Sydney Medical School, Professor Bruce Robinson, says while the priority is solving the current crisis, a lack of long-term resolution has the potential to damage Australia’s reputation as a tertiary destination.

Ms Andriputri and Mr Noor need an answer by early December before they give up hope and consider other options, such as trying to do a Masters degree to bide time – or changing careers.

“The whole thing is so frustrating. Sending these students home is the worst case scenario for Australia,” Mr Veness said.

“If you think this is a silly situation, and you want to be able to go and see a cardiologist in 20 years time when you have a heart attack, you need to do something about it,” he said.

The internship crisis can be followed on Twitter via #interncrisis and more information can be found at interncrisis.org.