MOST international medical students studying in NSW were never told they might be denied hospital internship places that are a vital part of their training, a survey has found.
Australia is facing a doctor shortage but is wasting the opportunity to hold on to talented medical graduates by forcing them back overseas to finish their training, according to the Australian Medical Association, which commissioned the survey.
Many of the students came to Australia before the rules were changed in 2009, giving international students access to internships only once all Australians and New Zealanders trained in Australia and overseas-trained applicants were employed.
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A survey of overseas students in NSW has found 72 per cent were not told when they came to Australia that they were not guaranteed a hospital internship.
Nearly half said if they had been told they would not have chosen to study here.
Haley Cochrane, 26, a second-year medical student from Canada, said that without the internship “no one in the world would hire you”. “You are not really qualified to do anything without it. You are saddled with $300,000 worth of debt and no job.”
Ms Cochrane, who studies at the University of Sydney, knew she was not guaranteed a place but hoped things might change once she had her degree. After studying here, she would have liked to stay, but her best option might be to apply for a placement in the US.
The chairman of the medical association’s NSW council, Saxon Smith, said the poor information on internships blighted Australia’s international standing.
It was particularly unfair on students who were unaware of the rules.
“The international students are full-fee-paying students so the reality is they cover the cost of their degrees and probably there is some subsidy going on for the Australian students,” Dr Saxon said.
“I don’t think it is an ethically responsible approach if they are not being told up front.”
Dr Saxon said the government should consider providing more private hospital training places to fill the shortfall, as the problem would only worsen as student numbers increased.
In August the Herald reported that more than 100 students had been denied internships in public hospitals this year.
But according to research prepared by Dr Saxon, by 2014 there could be a shortfall of about 2250 internship positions, meaning both local and international students would miss out.