Rural doctor shortage highlighted in new report

Rural doctors represented 16% of Australia's 49,000-strong medical workforce while 30% of the population lives outside metropolitan areas, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Medical labour force 1995 shows that there were 325 doctors per 100,000 population in metropolitan areas but only 142 per 100,000 population in rural areas. Large rural centres, with 261 doctors per 100,000 population, fared better than remote areas with 109 doctors per 100,000 population.

Head of the Institute's Health and Welfare Labour Force Unit, Mr John Harding, said that the 8,000 medical practitioners working in rural areas in December 1995 were more likely than their city counterparts to be men, non-specialists, and work longer hours and have higher patient loads.

Mr Harding also said, 'Difficulties in recruiting doctors to rural areas were compounded by the fact that relatively few medical students have the characteristics of doctors most likely to practise in rural areas.

'In 1996 almost 90% of newly commencing Australian medical students were themselves from capital cities and other metropolitan areas.

'In addition, 38% of Australian resident medical students were born in overseas countries, and relatively higher proportions of overseas-born doctors are found in capital city practice, as are female doctors, who now represent almost 50% of medical graduates.'

Other findings of the report include:

  • 512 doctors worked in Aboriginal health services, 193 as a primary job. 57.5% of these doctors were located in metropolitan areas.
  • 42.2% (20,647) of all practising medical practitioners worked either full-time or part of their time in public hospitals, while 6.9% (3,393) worked in private hospitals.
  • In 1996, 289 permanent migrants were approved for registration for medical practice; in 1995ȍ96 there was a net increase in the Medicare workforce of 125 overseas-trained doctors and 695 Australian-trained doctors.
  • In 1995ȍ96, 980 overseas resident medical practitioners arrived in Australia for temporary employment, mainly to fill approved area-of-need positions. 56.6% were from Great Britain and Ireland.

25 July 1997


For further information: John Harding, ph. 02 6244 1153 or 04 1923 9582 (mobile).
For media copies of the report (170pp): Mark McCarthy, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Medical labour force 1995.