QUOTAS for rural medical students to study at Australian universities should be increased to 30%, after new research showed a stark contrast between rural graduates planning to work in regional areas and their metropolitan counterparts.
The James Cook University research analysed the work patterns and intentions of medical graduates from the university between 2005 and 2010 and those from major city courses.
It found that almost nine in 10 JCU graduates intended to practice outside capital cities, compared with just one-third of metropolitan graduates.
The research largely confirmed what numerous rural health groups have been saying for years, highlighted during a recent Senate inquiry by the National Rural Health Alliance.
NRHA executive director Gordon Gregory said he believed the secret behind JCU's higher regional focus was that so many of the university's students were from a rural background.
"It's not just how they trained, it's where they come from," he said.
"If you look through a person's life, those who are born or raised in regional areas are more likely to go back to rural areas," he said.
"So with many of the regional medical schools and allied health schools, they have a significant regional intake, leading to greater numbers willing to work in remote areas."
Despite the progress being made at universities like JCU, Mr Gregory said there was still much to do to improve the rural health workforce.
He said the NRHA was pushing for all universities to have a 30% quota of students from rural areas, up from the current 25% Federal Government target.
Mr Gregory said lifting the quota would not only get more students into courses, but would align better with 32% of the nation's population who live outside the major cities.