INCREASING awareness of the importance of rehabilitation and Australia’s ageing population are leading to an increased demand for rehabilitation practitioners.

Dr Stephen Buckley, immediate past president of the Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFRM), part of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), said the federal government had acknowledged the importance of rehabilitation by increasing funding for rehabilitation beds and services.

Dr Buckley said the goal of rehabilitation medicine was to get people back on their feet and to assist them in improving physical, mental, social and vocational function to live as independently as possible.

To meet the increased demand for rehabilitation training positions, the AFRM has expanded the number of training places from about 40 a year 6 years ago, to 120 a year currently.

Rehabilitation medicine ranges from treatment following acute sports and musculoskeletal injuries to the management of people with disabilities following major illnesses such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and multiple fractures.

About 10%‒15% of rehabilitation medicine is within the private sector where treatment of injuries is covered by private health funds or workers compensation.

Dr Buckley said there was now strong demand for rehabilitation physicians, with graduates generally able to find positions without difficulty, especially outside metropolitan areas where demand is strongest.

Demand for rehabilitation services would remain strong as the population continues to age, he said.

“This year the [federal] government allocated an additional $1.6 billion to the states for subacute services, of which rehabilitation services make up about 70%,” he said.

Doctors who enjoy prolonged contact with patients and their families, and working with a team of other health professionals would get the most satisfaction from rehabilitation medicine, Dr Buckley said.

Older doctors, for example, GPs who had been in the workforce for some years, often found it an attractive specialty career.

Remuneration is not as high as for other specialties and most positions are as salaried hospital staff in the public sector.

It would not suit doctors with an interest in diagnostics since by the time a rehabilitation physician is involved with a patient, that patient’s condition is already diagnosed, Dr Buckley said.

Training in the AFRM’s vocational training program in rehabilitation medicine comprises 4 years of clinical experience and an integrated component of formal education.

There is also a 3-year training course in paediatric rehabilitation, which is offered as a separate specialty training program for graduates who have done paediatric training within the RACP.

Further information is available at the AFRM website.

The full version of this story will be published in MJA Careers on 15 November 2010.

Posted 1 November 2010

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