Health professionals in remote or rural areas of Australia could have their student debt wiped under new legislation passed in Federal Parliament on Thursday. The Government estimates that nurses could save up to $20,000, while some doctors could save an average of $70,000 through the program. The amount that a health professional can have wiped from their debt will depend on a few factors, including where they are practising, and how long their course was.
Doctors and nurses could have their entire student debt wiped if they live and work in a remote area for half as long as their course was or a rural town for the same amount of time as the whole length of their course. If a health professional has been in a rural or remote area for half the required time, they could still have half of their debt wiped. It will only apply to periods starting from the beginning of last year. Nurses will need to complete a Master’s Degree to be eligible.
Why’s it happening?
The program is targeted at attracting and retaining top health professionals to Australia’s rural and remote areas. A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last year found that people in remote or rural areas faced unique barriers to healthcare access, largely due to geographic isolation and low population density. It also found that the rate of potentially avoidable deaths rose as remoteness increased.
Health Minister Mark Butler said the program would increase access to quality healthcare in remote areas and would make rural and remote practice “a more attractive long-term career option”.