A Rosedale GP clinic is considering alternative options following a lengthy fruitless search to fill a vacant doctor position.
It comes after Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson identified access to doctors as a major concern for locals and The Express revealed one medical group with multiple clinics in the Latrobe Valley believes the region is in "crisis" due to doctor shortages.
Family-owned clinic Rosedale Family Medical Centre and Rosedale Family Dental director Rachel Ripper said there was a "concerning shortage of GPs in the area" and the clinic was considering employing a nurse practitioner to fill the "gap in the community's care".
A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has gone on to complete further education and is authorised to work in an extended medical role – depending on experience and qualification, nurse practitioners can prescribe some medications.
Having been trying to attract a GP "for months" Ms Ripper said nurse practitioners were a "different avenue we are looking at" that could "take the pressure off a bit".
"I think the general population aren't aware of nurse practitioners – they are still quite rare to find," she said.
"We're hoping to work together to make it more known and make the community more aware."
Australian College of Nurse Practitioners president Leanne Boase said while nurse practitioners were not a "direct substitute" for GPs, they could provide a "comprehensive and complementary medical service", with many specialists services included.
"They're not a solution to every shortage, but they really enhance the health service offering," she said.
"You'll often find that if you have a nurse practitioner in place, it is a little bit easier to attract a GP – some see [nurse practitioners] as somebody who knows the community, who can assist with the workload."
Ms Boase said the ACNP wanted to encourage nurses in rural areas to consider completing the additional study to become a nurse practitioner.
"That is the core thing with rural areas – there are often nurses that are already working at an advanced level that do know the community and its needs that could be supported to become a nurse practitioner," she said.
Ms Boase said nurse practitioners usually grew into that area of need.
"There are online courses.... but you do need to be an employed [registered nurse] and able to do a clinical placement for the duration of the course where you are working, this is usually negotiated within your place of employment."
"We still need to look at recruiting a GP, but if we can encourage that growth in the local area, professionals are more likely to stay. You'll get a regional nurse studying their masters as a nurse practitioner and stay in the area, whereas kids [in regional areas] will graduate high school study and study medicine in the city and often stay in the city."
Ms Boase said the ACNP was available for mentorship and guidance for registered nurses interested in completing further study to become nurse practitioners.
For more information, visit acnp.org.au.