Clinics on NSW-Victorian border seek medical practice assistants amid staff shortages

Clinics on NSW-Victorian border seek medical practice assistants amid staff shortages
  • PublishedDecember 1, 2023

Jen Kelly is a multi-talented mum. 

Ms Kelly lives in Bethanga, north-east Victoria, where she juggles two kids and a part-time job as a clinical practice assistant.

Key points:

  • A new type of employee could help alleviate pressure on regional healthcare services
  • Local medical clinics are increasingly looking to employ practice assistants
  • TAFE NSW has seen enrolments in its practice assistance course double

She is also helping to alleviate pressure on her town’s GP and healthcare services.

Career change

Ms Kelly said she wanted a new challenge after working in the beauty therapy and pharmaceutical sectors.

“I’ve always been drawn to the medical field,” she said.

“I looked at doing nursing, but that wasn’t going to fit in with my schedule of being a mum and would be tough financially as well.”

So she decided to head back to school, where she enrolled in a Certificate IV in Medical Practice Assisting (MPA).

Ms Kelly said the course equipped her with a range of hands-on skills.

“I learnt about performing ECGs, monitoring blood pressure, and managing sterilisation and infection control.

“So if you’re looking at wanting those basic skills to help assist nurses and doctors, it’s a real plus.”

Win-win situation

Ms Kelly is one of a rapidly growing number of people pursuing a career in practice assisting.

According to TAFE NSW, enrolments in the MPA course have doubled in the past two years.

TAFE Digital Clinical Health teacher and registered nurse of eight years, Emma Foley, said practice assistants were a crucial bridge between patients and clinicians.

A picture of a middle-aged woman standing in front of lit-up NSW Government and TAFE signs.
Emma Foley says practice assistants are in demand, particularly in rural and regional areas.(Supplied: Emma Foley)

“They can do a little bit of the medical admin, but also be able to go into the rooms and do those duties they’d normally have to employ an enrolled or registered nurse to do,” she said.

It comes as clinics along the NSW-Victorian border continue to grapple with month-long waiting lists and staff shortages.

Ms Kelly said she had seen the demand at the specialist Eye Clinic Albury-Wodonga.

“With medical reception, there’s always demand out there … and that’s why I sort of decided to get back into it,” she said.

“But the advantage of it for me was that I was able to slowly work my way into the clinical area of work.”

Flexibility is key

Current practice assistance courses aim to equip students with key medical and technical knowledge.

Ms Kelly said she had benefited from the practical aspects of her course.

“You learn so much from the specialists and it changes daily,” she said.

“You learn more about conditions and treatments, as well as how to fully care for the patients you’re dealing with.”

According to Ms Foley, the course’s hybrid study model had contributed to rising enrolments.

Several arm chairs in an empty room surrounded by medical equipment.
Multi-skilled practice assistants could help alleviate medical staffing challenges.(Supplied: Marie Stopes)

“We’ve seen a big increase particularly from students in rural and semi-rural communities,” she said.

“And in those areas, doctors and practices don’t have as much choice around recruitment, but this enables them to employ one particular person with a diverse range of skills.”

She said she expected the dual demand for practice assistance training and staff to grow.

“I know GP practices are becoming more aware of this qualification and sending their own employees to do the course,” she said.

Ms Kelly said the option to learn remotely made all the difference.

“It’s good in the sense that I was able to do it in my time and around my schedule,” she said.


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