A HORSHAM general practitioner ended her five-year stint at a Horsham medical centre on Monday – but not by choice.
Argentinian-born doctor Patricia Bas is not allowed to practice in Australia after she twice failed a stringent clinical exam set by the Australian Medical Board.
International doctors didn’t always have to sit exams before they started practicing in regional areas. However, they are now required to sit the exam to meet standards set out by the medical board.
A Medical Board of Australia spokesperson said the board set the standards for entry to medical practice in Australia, under the National Law.
Dr Bas has worked in Horsham for five years but has been practicing medicine, primarily as a pediatrician, for 23 years.
She said she moved to Australia because she was aware of the doctor shortages in regional areas.
“I came to Australia in good faith to work because I knew that there was a need for specialists,” she said.
“When I came here, I realised that it was all business focused. Then I realised that Rural Workforce Victoria is a company run by the government.
“I feel like they aren’t assessing you by your performance and how well you do the job – they just assess you as a number.”
When she first started working in Australia, she signed a contract for four years.
“At the time of the contract is up, they will offer doctors an extension of three years,” she said.
“That extension is offered to people with special conditions, such as myself – I came here with years of experience. I also applied for compassionate grounds because my father is in my total economical support and he is living in Australia.
“They are indirectly dismissing with the consequence of losing the people who have real experience of working in Australia.
“There are two groups of doctors – people who come with previous experience from overseas, they don’t have a classification unless they are from a Commonwealth country. I am not from the Commonwealth and I have had to pay a cost for this.”
She said her Horsham clinic had lost more than 10 doctors due to changes around the testing.
“I see between 25 and 30 patients per day,” she said.
“This situation of losing doctors doesn’t help the population of rural people.”
She said taking the exams was a costly and timely practice.
“I want to sit the exams but I need to have the same amount of time other doctors are given to pass it, which is three years. I have only been given six months,” she said.
“I was initially given 25 days to study for the second exam and just didn't have the time. It has cost me $55,000 to pay for the fees of the college and to sit the exams. It costs $3000 each time you sit the exam.
“When I first came, the passing score was 60 per cent but now it has dropped very significantly. The vast majority of people taking these exams aren’t passing them and are failing repetitively, even doctors that are working.”
A group of international doctors working in Australia created a change.org petition addressed to Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Titled IMGs and AMC, let's have a fair clinical exam, the petition requests that the exam is supervised by the Australian Medical Board and examiners give “a fair go to everyone”.
Ms Bas said she had support from numerous clients and colleagues who have written to Mr Hunt and Rural Health Minister Bridget McKenzie requesting an overhaul of the examining system.
An AMB spokesperson said the board valued the contribution of international medical graduates to the Australian community.
“These standards are approved by Australia’s health ministers and apply across Australia,” they said.
“More than 25 per cent of doctors who have met the standard for full registration in Australia and are now practising without restriction in this country, gained their primary medical qualification overseas.
“IMGs are often recruited to work in regional and remote communities in Australia, sometimes in isolated positions where professional support is less accessible.
“These doctors often have limited registration, which means they can work under supervision. The law and the Board require employers to provide IMGs with limited registration with support and training so they can pass the necessary Australian exams.
“IMGs who have planned to practice in Australia long-term have been expected to demonstrate that they have met Australian standards by completing the Australian Medical Council examination (which is set at the standard of an Australian medical graduate), or by attaining specialist medical qualifications.”
The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme started in 2010 and replaced state-based registration for doctors.
“Meeting national standards is a legal requirement of IMGs under the National Scheme,” they said.
“By law, there are different types of medical registration in Australia, for different purposes and types of medical practice.”
This situation of losing doctors doesn’t help the population of rural people.Dr Patricia Bas
Under the National Law, limited registration can be renewed three times.
“An IMG with limited registration who wishes to continue to practice in Australia and has already renewed their registration three times, must make a new application for registration and meet the relevant, approved national standards,” they said.
“The standard for registration has not changed recently. Instead, some IMGs have renewed their registration three times and must now apply for registration again, and meet the current standards.”