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15 Jun 2015

At the moment, students from around Australia are preparing applications for internships in 2016. For many, this will be a fairly straightforward process - they will have grown up in a certain area, studied in that area, and want to continue to work in that area.

Unfortunately, this will be a stressful time for many others.

Over the past decade, the number of medical students commencing medical studies has nearly doubled, meaning that every year we graduate a record number of students. While this is important to address shortages of doctors, particularly in rural areas, it has meant that some international students who have studied in Australia and want to continue working here, have had to move overseas upon graduation in recent years.

Both State and Federal governments have tried to address this, but each has done so in a different way, and this has led to an overly complex system.

State governments provide funding for almost all internships in Australia. When prioritising applicants, New South Wales places domestic applicants who have studied in that state first, followed by domestic interstate applicants. But in Victoria, international students from Victoria are picked ahead of those domestic applicants from interstate.

This might seem like a small point for workforce planners, but the overall system is ridiculous. Applicants who are preparing at the moment will begin finding out where they are placed in mid-July, however the process of allocation won’t finish until late November, and in a few special cases will continue even longer.

Say that I apply for an Internship in New South Wales, but that I also want to apply to a hospital in Queensland. I’d certainly get a position in New South Wales in the first round, but might not get one straight away in Queensland.

However, a month later, Queensland will have a few more positions available, so they might send me an email and ask me to head north. If I’m responsible, I’ll accept it quickly and notify New South Wales. In turn, they will email an applicant who might have accepted a spot in South Australia; South Australia will take one from Western Australia – it is essentially a game of musical chairs.

To add to the drama, the Federal Government’s Commonwealth Medical Internship Initiative funds up to 100 positions in private settings, usually in regional Australia, but their allocation won’t start until mid-way through the process.

This might be fine if it didn’t mean that people miss out, but I’m afraid that it does.

Despite the fact that there were more individual applicants than there were internship positions last year, some hospitals actually weren’t able to fill positions by early January (when they were still offering jobs). Many of international students, afraid that they won’t be able to get an internship, take up offers to work overseas when they get one.

Australia became a Federation more than 100 years ago because, while the states wanted to maintain a degree of independence, there were things they could do collectively which would be much more effective.

The current system of internship application and allocation is a case in point. It involves a duplication of process and takes bureaucrats months to achieve an outcome that a computer algorithm should be able to resolve much more quickly.

James Lawler is the President of the Australian Medical Students’ Association. You can follow him on twitter @jmslwlr or @youramsa.

Published: 15 Jun 2015