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 must have completed post-graduate specialist training to become a palliative medicine physician. Palliative medicine specialists are required to have completed 3 years of full-time equivalent training in either a paediatric or adult setting under the supervision of a palliative medicine 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 medicine 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 (RACP 2020). Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have completed Master’s level education and are endorsed by the Nursing and Midwifery Board to practice autonomously and collaboratively within a scope of practice to diagnose, plan and deliver high quality comprehensive health care (NMBA 2016). Additionally, 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 2020).

The information presented in this section 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’). Information on other professions who may provide palliative care, such as those noted above, is not presented due to a lack of comprehensive data.

Data downloads

Palliative care workforce tables 2018  (299KB XLSX)

Palliative care workforce section 2018  (196KB PDF)

The information in this section was last updated in September 2020.

Key points

  • 271 palliative medicine physicians and 3,528 palliative care nurses were employed nationally in 2018 (1.0 and 12.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) per 100,000 population respectively).
  • 1 in 130 employed medical specialists were palliative medicine physicians and 1 in 95 employed nurses were palliative care nurses.
  • 62.7% of employed palliative medicine physicians were female, which is almost twice the proportion of all employed medical specialists (33.1%).
  • 70.1% of employed palliative medicine physicians worked in a hospital setting, compared with about half (52.2%) of employed palliative care nurses.


The information on palliative medicine physicians and palliative care nurses presented in this section was derived from the National Health Workforce Data Set (NHWDS) for the period 2013 to 2018. Further details on the NHWDS are outlined in data sources.

Palliative medicine physicians

There were 271 palliative medicine physicians employed in Australia in 2018, 0.8% or about 1 in 130 of all employed medical specialists. In addition, there were 5 paediatric palliative care specialists in Australia in 2018 (MBA 2019). These paediatric specialists are not included in the numbers presented here.

In 2018, 62.7% of employed palliative medicine physicians were female. This was almost double the proportion seen for all medical specialists (33.1%). The proportion of palliative medicine physicians aged over 55 was higher for males than females (48.5% of males and 24.7% of females).

Palliative medicine physicians worked on average 38.3 total hours per week in 2018, which was less than the average weekly hours for all employed medical specialists (43.1 hours). Average clinical hours were 29.7 per week which was also less than that of all employed specialists (35.9). Female palliative medicine physicians worked on average 36.4 total hours per week and males worked on average 41.4 total hours per week. Average hours worked varied by jurisdiction, ranging from 35.0 hours per week for South Australia to 43.2 hours per week in the Australian Capital Territory.

Nationally, there were 1.0 FTE (0.8 clinical FTE) palliative medicine physicians per 100,000 population in 2018. The rate of FTE palliative medicine physicians per 100,000 population across states and territories ranged from 0.8 in Victoria to 1.9 in the Northern Territory (Figure WK.1).

More than 8 in 10 (83.2%) FTE palliative medicine physicians worked mainly in Major cities during 2018. 1 in 10 (10.3%) worked in Inner regional areas and 1 in 20 (5.0%) worked in Outer regional areas. Taking into account differences in population sizes for each remoteness area, the FTE per 100,000 population for palliative medicine physicians was highest in Remote areas (1.3 FTE), followed by Major cities (1.2 FTE).

There were 246 (90.8%) employed palliative medicine physicians mainly working as clinicians in 2018. About 7 in 10 (70.1% or 190) were employed in a hospital setting, followed by 26 (9.6%) in other community health care services and 19 (7.0%) in outpatient services.

Vertical bar chart showing the rate per 100,000 population of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) and clinical FTE employed palliative medicine physicians in Australia by state and territory. New South Wales FTE 1.1, clinical FTE 0.9; Victoria FTE 0.8, clinical FTE 0.6; Queensland FTE 1.0, clinical FTE 0.8; Western Australia FTE 1.1, clinical FTE 0.9; South Australia FTE 1.0, clinical FTE 0.8; Tasmania FTE 1.7,clinical FTE 1.3; Australian Capital Territory FTE 1.3, clinical FTE 0.9; Northern Territory FTE 1.9, clinical FTE 1.7; Total FTE 1.0, clinical FTE 0.8. Refer to Table Wk.3.

Source: Palliative care workforce tables (299KB XLSX)

Palliative care physicians over time

Between 2013 and 2018, there was a 48.1% increase in the number of employed palliative medicine physicians. For population rates of employed palliative medicine physicians over time, there has been an increase from 0.8 FTE (0.6 clinical FTE) per 100,000 population in 2013 to 1.0 FTE (0.8 clinical FTE) in 2018.

Palliative care nurses

There were 3,528 palliative care nurses employed in Australia in 2018, 1.1% or 1 in 95 of all employed nurses.

In 2018, over 9 in 10 (92.6%) employed palliative care nurses were female. This is slightly higher than the proportion of females among all nurses (88.9%). About 1 in every 100 (1.2%) palliative care nurses were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is similar to the proportion for all nurses (1.3%).

Palliative care nurses worked an average of 32.8 total hours per week in 2018, which was less than the total hours worked by all employed nurses (33.4 hours). However, palliative care nurses worked, on average, slightly longer clinical hours than all employed nurses (30.3 and 29.6 hours respectively). The total hours worked were, on average, lower for females than males (32.5 hours and 36.5 hours, respectively).

Nationally, there were 12.2 FTE (11.2 clinical FTE) palliative care nurses per 100,000 population in 2018. The rate of FTE palliative care nurses by state and territory ranged from 11.3 in South Australia to 15.1 in Tasmania (Figure WK.2). The average total hours worked varied across jurisdictions, ranging from 30.8 hours per week in Western Australia to 37.4 hours per week in the Northern Territory.

About 5 in 7 FTE palliative care nurses worked mainly in Major cities during 2018 (72.1%), and 20.0% worked in Inner regional areas. Taking into account differences in population sizes for each remoteness area, the FTE palliative care nurses per 100,000 population was highest for Inner regional areas (13.5 FTE), followed by Major cities (12.3 FTE), dropping to 7.7 in Remote areas.

More than 9 in 10 (3,351 or 95.0%) employed palliative care nurses were principally employed as clinicians. About half (1,841 or 52.2%) of all employed palliative care nurses were employed in a hospital setting, followed by one quarter (882, or 25.0%) in community healthcare services and about 1 in 8 (461 or 13.1%) in hospices.

 

Vertical bar chart showing the rate per 100,000 population of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) and clinical FTE employed palliative care nurses working in Australia by state and territory. New South Wales FTE 12.0, clinical FTE 11.0; Victoria FTE 12.9, clinical FTE 11.8; Queensland FTE 11.6, clinical FTE 10.8; Western Australia FTE 11.7, clinical FTE 11.0; South Australia FTE 11.3, clinical FTE 10.4; Tasmania FTE 15.1, clinical FTE 14.7; Australian Capital Territory FTE 14.5, clinical FTE 13.0; Northern Territory FTE 14.7, clinical FTE 14.3; Total FTE 12.2, clinical FTE 11.2. Refer to Table Wk.9.

Source: Palliative care workforce tables (299KB XLSX)

Palliative care nurses over time

From 2013 to 2018, there was an 8.1% increase in the number of employed palliative care nurses. The population rate of FTE employed palliative care nurses has increased slightly over time, from 12.0 (11.0 clinical) in 2013 to 12.2 (11.2 clinical) per 100,000 population in 2018.


References

Centre for Palliative Care 2020. Professional Development Melbourne: Centre for Palliative Care. Viewed 7 July 2020.

MBA (Medical Board of Australia) 2019. Registrant data, Reporting period: 1 October 2018 – 31 December 2018. Viewed 7 July 2020.

NMBA (Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia) 2016. Registration standard: Endorsement as a nurse practitioner. Viewed 7 July 2020.

RACP 2000 (Royal Australian College of Physicians). Training pathways Sydney: Royal Australian College of Physicians. Viewed 7 July 2020.