January 24 2023
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Posted September 15, 2023
As rural Australia faces a rising shortage of GPs, it’s never been more important to attract doctors into country communities. But attracting doctors is only half the battle, providing an environment they are happy to stay and thrive in is just as important.
One such program that aims to help with the retention of GPs in rural NSW is the Welcome Ambassador service, an initiative of the Hunter New England and Central Coast (HNECC) Primary Health Network.
Launched in February 2022, the Welcome Ambassador service, while in its infancy, is already having a real impact on the experience of GPs who have relocated to rural locations.
General practices that receive a GP Bush Relocation Incentive Grant from the HNECC Primary Health Network are eligible for the service, which includes a tailored support program and one-on-one guidance from a Welcome Ambassador.
The GP Bush Relocation Incentive Grant program was developed by the HNECC Primary Health Network in response to the shortage of rurally based GPs. The recruitment incentive grants aim to attract and retain new GPs over 2022 and 2023. In 2022, nine grants were awarded and a further four opportunities have been offered in 2023. The grants are made up of two components; a $30,000 grant provided to the general practice and a Welcome Ambassador service to assist with the relocation of GPs.
Amy Kelly is a Tamworth-based Welcome Ambassador who supports relocating GPs with everything they need to know to help ease their transition and feel connected to their new community.
When a GP receives a bush grant, Amy is introduced to them and the journey begins.
“After I introduce myself as their Welcome Ambassador and outline what that involves, I get started with a household survey before they make the move to their new hometown or regional city,” Amy said.
“It is a really comprehensive survey looking at every person down to the fur babies. It's all about looking at ways that we can help increase retention by connecting them to the community.
“I look at what essential information they need, what they're currently doing, if they're coming from South Africa or Iran or Melbourne or another part of regional Australia, what they do on the weekends to make friends, how they interact with people, what their special interests are, what gets them out and about, and what gives them joy when they're not working.
“If there are children involved, I find out if they need information on childcare or different levels of education or whether someone be staying at home with the children. I determine whether they need accommodation support.
“It's about really working out what is appropriate for each individual and I focus on making sure that they're making educated, informed decisions before they even hit the ground.”
Amy’s service as a Welcome Ambassador is just about as comprehensive as you can get. She looks at every doctor’s individual circumstances and tailors her support based on their unique needs.
“If someone has a really passionate interest, say they're a keen rugby league player and it's off-season, I'll find out which gym the club trains at in the off-season and ring the coach and say, hey, we've got a bloke coming to town, can he come down Tuesday night at 7 o'clock and say G’day?
“It’s about trying to make connections and helping people feel at home in their new community.
“If a doctor is overseas trained, I'll ring the local multicultural association where they have barbecues once a fortnight to welcome people from different cultures.”
As part of the service, Amy presents GPs with customised manuals containing essential information on local services as well as highly-personalised information based on their needs and interests.
She then takes it upon herself to hand-deliver a hamper of local produce to the newly-arrived doctor along with a selection of goodies for the practice, all part of her goal to make the GP feel welcome in their new community.
The Welcome Ambassador service is an ongoing relationship spanning the first six months of a GP’s relocation to rural practice.
HNECC Primary Health Network, Rural Health Access Manager, Annabelle Williams, said the service has received positive feedback from the people it has supported.
“Amy makes a personal connection with each GP and takes the time to follow up with them regularly. She receives beautiful messages from people thanking her for her support and the thoroughness of the manuals she puts together and the ongoing check-ins.
“We need to invest time to look after the doctors that are prepared to come out to rural areas to work.
“The medical community all talk to each other so if one doctor is having a positive rural experience, they will share that positive experience with their counterparts and colleagues.
“It’s all about changing the message to a positive message about coming and working rurally.”
For more information on the Welcome Ambassador service, contact the HNECC Primary Health Network, Rural Health Access Manager, Annabelle Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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