Readying a rural health workforce for northern Australia

Since its establishment in 2000, James Cook University’s medical education program has undertaken an ambitious and research-driven approach to building the medical and health capacity of northern Australia. As the first medical school located entirely in regional Australia, JCU’s initial intake of 60 students has since grown and supplied more than 2000 medical graduates who now work in regional and rural areas throughout Australia.

With seven million people living in remote and regional Australia, many Australians living in these communities face unique health challenges with poorer health outcomes and poorer access to primary health care services compared to people living in major cities. It is expected that by 2028, an additional 3000 doctors and nurses will be required to adequately support the health care needs of these rural, regional, and remote communities.  

JCU’s medical education pipeline is leading the way in meeting this growing demand, having developed a socially-accountable curriculum to guide students in undertaking careers as generalist practitioners within these underserved communities.

Preferencing students from rural backgrounds, the JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry program provides medical students with focused training for serving regional and remote health contexts. All JCU medical students undertake final year placements in regional and remote areas and are supported by infrastructure across ten regional training centres. Almost two-thirds of JCU’s domestic medical graduates go on to careers in regional, rural and remote locations, compared to fewer than 20% across all of Australia’s medical schools. 

Following JCU’s medical school model, the university has continued to train health professionals for rural and remote Australia, including nurses, physiotherapists, dentists, pharmacists, and occupational therapists. In Queensland, JCU accounts for only nine percent of health graduates, but makes up more than 40% of health graduates working in outer regional and remote locations.

JCU’s medical education program has ensured that its graduates — whatever their origin — are ready and willing to support northern Australia’s underserved communities. 

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