Overseas trained doctors reducing medical workforce shortages

State and Territory health authorities have greatly increased their use of overseas-trained doctors in meeting rural and public hospital medical workforce shortages, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Medical Labour Force 1998 shows that the number of overseas trained doctors entering Australia on temporary contracts increased from 893 in 1993-94 to 2,224 in 1998-99 and that these doctors stayed for an average of one year. Head of the Institute's Labour Force Unit, John Harding, said that the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee's 1999 report Temporary Resident Doctors in Australia found that these doctors were making a valuable contribution to filling gaps in medical services, particularly in hospitals, locum services and rural areas.

'In addition to temporary resident doctors, the medical workforce during the 1990s was boosted by around 1,200 Australian medical graduates per year and by an average of 270 overseas-trained doctors per year who migrated permanently to Australia and gained medical registration,' Mr Harding said.

'As a result, the medical workforce increased by almost 9% between 1993 and 1998 compared with a 6% population increase.

'The GP workforce increased by 10% and the specialist workforce by 8%. There was also a 10% increase in the numbers of specialists in training, which suggests that we might see some easing of the current shortage of specialists over the next decade.'

Despite the increases in doctor numbers, the report found that large geographic differences remain in the supply of doctors across Australia:

  • Compared with the national average of 260 doctors per 100,000 population, Queensland and Western Australia had 236 in 1998. The ACT and South Australia had the highest numbers with 310 and 293 respectively. New South Wales had 272 doctors per 100,000, Victoria 258, Tasmania 247 and the Northern Territory 262.
  • Provision of general practitioners in rural areas remains well below that in the cities. In 1998, small rural centres averaged 93 GPs per 100,000 population; other rural areas had 77 and remote areas 68. These areas were well below capital cities, which averaged 122 GPs per 100,000; other metropolitan areas and large rural centres averaged 107 and 110 respectively.

Medical Labour Force 1998 shows an increasing trend in the proportion of new female medical students-rising from 43.6% in 1989 to 52.7% in 1999. Female medical graduates now represent 60% of GP trainees in Australia.

13 June 2000


Further information: John Harding, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1153, or Paul Gavel, AMWAC, tel. 02 9391 9933, for Temporary Resident Doctors in Australia.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.