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Call the doctor: COVID’s impact on GP training
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Call the doctor: COVID’s impact on GP training

Research 6 minute read

General practitioners (GPs) are a vital part of Australia’s health care system. A national survey has provided a unique insight into the experiences of GPs in-training during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian General Practice Training National Registrar Survey (AGPT NRS) is an annual survey of GP registrar satisfaction, experience and future career plans. It also collects information about registrars’ demographics and training contexts and other aspects of their training experience.

From October to December 2020, on behalf of the Department of Health, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) administered the AGPT NRS to registrars enrolled in active training in the AGPT program across Australia.

A total of 1188 registrars completed the survey, representing an overall response rate of 31 per cent. This was significantly lower than previous years (2019: 38%; 2018: 42%; 2017: 40%), but still sufficient to produce valid and reliable results. The reduction in the survey response rate is perhaps unsurprising given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on registrars in 2020 as well as the cancellation of exams in the weekend before the survey was launched.

Overall levels of satisfaction have decreased by four percentage points across all three categories since 2019, but remain high. In 2020:

  • 84 per cent of registrars were satisfied with the overall education and training
  • 80 per cent were satisfied with the overall support
  • 82 per cent were satisfied with the overall administration.

Figure 1: National Registrar Survey 2020 infographic

In 2020, ACER developed a set of research questions addressing the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on GP training. These questions looked at the support and communication that was provided by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), Colleges and training facilities, as well as the impact that COVID-19 had on GP training and their experience with telehealth.

Around 90 per cent of registrars were satisfied with the support and communication they received from their training facility throughout the pandemic, and around 80 per cent were satisfied with the support and communication from their RTO.

When registrars were asked to rate the impact that COVID-19 had on different aspects of their training:

  • 53 per cent of registrars reported that their ability to collaborate with other registrars was negatively impacted
  • 52 per cent of registrars reported that the workshops provided were negatively impacted
  • 46 per cent of registrars reported that their progression towards completion was negatively impacted
  • 42 per cent of registrars reported that their ability to collaborate with colleagues was negatively impacted.

One of several changes for GPs brought about by the pandemic was the introduction in March 2020 of government-subsidised telehealth consultations to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for patients and health care providers.

Nationally, 96 per cent of registrars reported using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 17 per cent used telehealth a lot (> 50% of consultations)
  • 45 per cent used telehealth some of the time (20-50% of consultations)
  • 34 per cent used telehealth occasionally (<20% of consultations).

However, as shown in Figure 2, the telehealth experience of registrars in Victoria and the Northern Territory was noticeably different to the rest of the country.

Figure 2: Proportion of GP registrars in each state who did more than 20% of their consultation via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic

Most registrars (87 per cent) were satisfied with the support from their training facility to transition to telehealth. More than a quarter (29 per cent) of registrars reported that they received training in telehealth and of these, 93 per cent were satisfied with that training.

An open response question asking registrars what could have been improved about the program’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic revealed 17 per cent of responses related to the desire for more training, particularly around telehealth and providing advice around COVID-19.

“In the end everyone did a good job in very difficult and uncertain circumstances. The move to telehealth protected our health but some more formal training would have made the transition easier at the time” – Female FRACGP registrar training on general pathway.

“Additional education and training on how to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 in local area” – Male FRACGP registrar training on rural pathway.

“More support at the beginning of COVID in RTO training workshops about how to safely use PPE, take NP swabs, access DHHS information and resources and conduct telehealth consults” – Female FRACGP registrar training on general pathway.

The 2021 AGPT National Registrar Survey is currently open. Several of the questions in relation to COVID-19 have been retained. The survey will also canvass registrar views on employment models, salary and entitlements, as well as awareness of the transition to college-led GP training.

Read the full report:
‘AGPT Program National Report on the 2020 National Registrar Survey’ by Rebecca Taylor, Leyna Clarke and Ali Radloff, Australian Council for Educational Research, 2021.

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