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The health labour force in Australia is large and diverse, covering many occupations, ranging from highly qualified professionals to support staff and volunteers. Health occupations comprise workers who diagnose and treat physical and mental illnesses and conditions or recommend, administer, dispense and develop medications and treatment to promote or restore good health.
There are two major sources of data on the Australian health labour force:
The ABS census covers a wider range of professions but is only conducted every 5 years. The AIHW Labour Force Surveys cover medical practitioners and nurses and midwives on an annual basis and collate more detailed information.
This page presents data from the 2006 Census. For more recent information on medical practitioners and nurses and midwives see:
In 2006, 548,384 people were employed in health occupations, comprising 6% of all employed persons in Australia (ABS Census of Population and Housing).
Over the last four decades the health labour force has increased at a much faster rate than population growth, and this growth has been maintained over recent years: between the 2001 and 2006 censuses, the number of people working in health occupations increased by 22.8%, compared with an 6.6% increase in the Australian population.
Source: ABS, Census of Population and Housing, 2001 and 2006 (data available from ABS on request).
One of the major changes in the health labour force is the increasing female participation.
The average age of people employed in health occupations in 2006 was 42 years. This was slightly higher than the average age of people employed outside the health workforce, which was 39 years.
In the health workforce in 2001, 17.1% of male workers were aged 55 years or older and in 2006 this cohort comprised 20.6%. The increase in the proportion of females aged 55 years or older (from 10.1% to 14.6%) was larger than that of males.
The female work pattern of working fewer hours per week than males was evident in the 2006 census data which showed 50.0% of employed females worked less than 35 hours per week, compared with one-fifth of males working in health. The 2001 census presented a similar pattern with 51.3% of females in health occupations employed part time compared to 17.6% for males.
The average week for health workers in 2006 was 35 hours.
The current distribution of the health workforce across Australia does not match the population distribution. Moreover, the geographic distribution of health workers in different occupations is varied. For example, the numbers of medical practitioners per 100,000 population, and most health professionals except nurses, are higher in capital cities than in other areas. These issues have an impact on the provision of health services and the way they are delivered to people in rural and remote areas.
Source: ABS, Census of Population and Housing, 2006 (data available from ABS on request).
Go to more AIHW information on rural health
A key source of information about health occupations is the five-yearly national census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Information based on this source is published in the AIHW publication Health and community services labour force 2001 and Health and community services labour force 2006.
More detailed information on specific health occupations, based on various AIHW health labour force surveys and other data collections, can be found on the publications page.
More detailed data and information on mental health-related occupations, based on various AIHW health labour force surveys, can be found on the mental health workforce page.
Further health labour force information is shown in Chapter 9 of Australia's health 2012.