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To stay or go? Unpacking the decision-making process and coping strategies of International Medical Graduates practising in rural, remote, and regional Queensland, Australia

Bunmi S Malau-Aduli, Amy M Smith, Louise Young, Tarun Sen Gupta and Richard Hays

PLOS ONE, 2020, vol. 15, issue 6, 1-20

Abstract: Australia is one of many countries to rely on International Medical Graduates (IMGs) to fill general practitioner (GP) positions throughout its regional, rural, and remote (RRR) communities. Current government initiatives requiring IMGs to work for specified periods in RRR areas offer only short-term solutions. The need to improve the long-term retention of IMGs practising in RRR areas has motivated this research to improve our understanding of how IMGs make decisions about where to practise. Specifically, this study sought to: (a) identify the factors that influence an IMG’s decision to remain working in RRR areas, and (b) develop a theory, grounded in the data, to explain how these factors are prioritised, evaluated and used to inform a decision to remain working in RRR areas. This study adopted a qualitative approach and employed grounded theory methods. Data collection and analysis occurred concurrently, using constant, comparative analysis, guided by theoretical sampling and data saturation. Data sources were transcripts from semi-structured interviews with IMG registrars (n = 20) and supervisors (n = 5), interviewers’ notes and analytic memos. Interviewees were all currently working in RRR areas of Queensland, Australia. The analysis involved a three-phase coding process, progressing from specific, inductive coding to abstract, abductive coding. The analysis revealed that the IMG decision-making process involves a complex, dynamic, and iterative process of balancing life goals based on life stage. Many factors are considered when assessing the balance of three main life goals: satisfaction with work, family, and lifestyle. The prioritisation and balance of these life goals can vary as the IMG moves through varying work-, family-, and age-related life stages. It is hoped that having this understanding of the complexity of the IMG decision-making process, will better equip medical educators, policy makers and support service providers to tailor services to encourage IMGs to continue practising in these regions.

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234620

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