Palliative care workforce

The palliative care workforce is made up of a number of health professional groups including specialist palliative medicine physicians, nurses, general practitioners (GPs), pharmacists, other medical specialists (such as oncologists and geriatricians), as well as other health workers, support staff and volunteers.

Medical specialists who are a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians must have completed post-graduate specialist training to become palliative medicine physicians. Palliative medicine specialists are required to have completed three years of full time equivalent training in either a paediatric or adult setting under the supervision of a Palliative Care physician. Successful trainees gain the qualification of Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP)/Fellowship of the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine (FAChPM) and are accredited to practise as a Palliative Care physician in Australia or New Zealand. Medical practitioners may also complete a 6 month Clinical Diploma in Palliative Medicine, but this qualification does not result in specialist accreditation (Royal Australian College of Physicians, 2016). Nurses may complete a variety of short or more comprehensive courses (including postgraduate certificate and Masters qualifications) if they wish to work in the field of palliative care, and postgraduate qualifications are generally required for nurses working in specialist palliative care services (Centre for Palliative Care 2016).

The information presented in this chapter describes the number and characteristics of the workforce of specialist palliative medicine physicians and nurses working in palliative care (referred to as 'palliative care nurses').

Data downloads

Palliative care workforce tables (514KB XLS)

Palliative care workforce section (147KB)

The information in this section was last updated in May 2017.

Key points

  • Nationally, there were 213 specialist palliative medicine physicians and 3,321 palliative care nurses in 2015 (0.9 and 12.0 full-time-equivalent (FTE) per 100,000 population respectively).
  • The highest rates for specialist palliative medicine physicians and palliative care nurses were evident for Major cities (1.1 and 12.7 FTE per 100,000 population respectively).
  • In 2015, over 3 in 5 (62.0%) employed specialists palliative medicine physicians were female which is more than twice the proportion of all employed medical specialists (29.7%).
  • About 4 in 5 (77.9%) employed specialist palliative medicine physicians worked in a hospital setting, compared to about half (51.2%) of employed palliative care nurses.


The information on specialist palliative medicine physicians presented in this section was derived from the National Health Workforce Data Set (NHWDS) for the period 2012 to 2015. Data for palliative care nurses were not collected between 2010 and 2012. Prior to 2013 data, the most recent published figures for palliative care nurses from the AIHW Nursing and Midwifery Labour Force Survey 2009 are available in the report Palliative care services in Australia 2012 (AIHW 2012). Estimates of the 2011 specialist palliative medicine physician workforce are not published here due to data quality issues. Further details on these data sources are outlined in data sources section.



AIHW 2012. Palliative care services in Australia 2012. Cat. no. HWI 120. Canberra: AIHW.

Centre for Palliative Care 2016. Professional Development. Melbourne: Centre for Palliative Care. Viewed 7 November 2016.

Royal Australian College of Physicians 2016. Training pathways. Sydney: Royal Australian College of Physicians. Viewed 7 November 2016.