Rural Health Workforce Australia is the peak body for the state and territory Rural Workforce Agencies. Our not-for-profit Network attracts, recruits and supports health professionals for rural and remote communities.

making healthcare accessible

What the Medico Millennials want

By Greg Mundy, CEO of Rural Health Workforce Australia

(an edited version of this article originally appeared in MJA InSight on 8 June 2015)

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is one of the great undercurrents tugging at the feet of Millennials these days.

FOMO bobs up regularly as a hashtag in the social media stream, where opportunities lost or gained are variously mourned or celebrated by that well-connected generation of people born between 1980 and 2000. The need to constantly check in on mobile devices is one of the symptoms of this 'condition'.

It appears that FOMO is also a key driver of medical students and junior doctors as they strive to get an edge over their peers in a highly competitive career environment.

These 'Medico Millennials' are competing with twice as many of their peers as a decade ago for hospital placements, preferred rotations and specialist training places.

For some, going rural is deemed a bit of a backward step in this career race. The FOMO perception at play here is that by going rural you may miss out on more prestigious city placements, with better facilities and exposure to the latest technology.

Yet students who think like that may actually be missing out on more compelling advantages of rural training, and opportunities to be greater than average.

Rural Health Workforce Australia recently commissioned research on this subject with the University of Queensland. The study was based on in-depth interviews with 41 junior doctors and 25 medical students from Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.

If that sample is anything to go by, the Medico Millennials are looking for quality training experiences that will develop their skills and boost their professional prospects.

The research showed they prize:

  • Working in small teams, with more attention from supervisors
  • More responsibility, with opportunities for hands-on learning
  • Broader scope of practice
  • Greater continuity of care

These are the very benefits offered by going rural. As one student told us recently: "Rural placements are NOT career limiting. They are an opportunity to excel in practical and theoretical components of clinical medicine, make connections, smash your exams and advance your future career."

When asked what else contributed to successful rural placements, the Medico Millennials wanted strong professional and social support. Not surprisingly, good internet access was deemed very important to stay in touch with friends as well as for study, research and remote clinical support. A preference for flexibility in relation to part-time training was also expressed by some of the junior doctors we spoke with.

We decided to explore a little further and asked 1,000 university health students about their attitude to clinical placements, These students belong to Rural Health Clubs, which we support through the National Rural Health Student Network

This broadened the sample by giving us a mix of medical, nursing and allied health students. They reiterated the benefits of rural training described above.

In fact, the number one answer across medicine, nursing and allied health students to the question of what factors they considered important when deciding to undertake a clinical placement was "opportunities for hands-on learning".

Financial costs associated with placements, such as accommodation, were important for nursing and allied health students who clearly need more assistance in this area.

So what does all this mean for rural and remote health?

Our investigations have uncovered some defining characteristics about the new Millennial generation of health professionals. They:

  • Are tech savvy (so rural infrastructure and technology is critical)
  • Value life balance (therefore old-school rostering needs to be more flexible)
  • Thrive on social connection (meaning team-based care fits into their world construct)
  • Question the status quo (and are likely to adapt more readily to new workforce models)
  • Are competitive and are prepared to shop around (so the rural health sector needs to 'sell' itself more effectively)

These characteristics mean that the future workforce will be different to the past, as will future health service models and the workers they need.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to invest heavily in health care undergraduate vocational training in the hope of developing a home-grown rural health workforce. Matching culture to that workforce is going to be critical as the Millennial Medicos, Nurses and Allied Health professionals explore the various roads to rural.

The greatest FOMO is in Australian rural communities who will miss out if policy makers and health services fail to connect with the up and coming generation of health professionals.

Further Reading

RHWA Research Paper - #MillennialsGoRural

The University of Queensland - ISSR Research Report

RHWA Fact Sheet - Rural Training Experiences