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 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 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 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 (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 2016 (496KB XLS)

 Palliative care workforce section 2016 (229KB)

The information in this section was last updated in May 2018.

Key points

  • 226 specialist palliative medicine physicians and 3,457 palliative care nurses were employed nationally in 2016 (0.9 and 12.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) per 100,000 population respectively).
  • 1 in 140 employed medical specialists were palliative medicine physicians and around 1 in 90 employed nurses were palliative care nurses.
  • 62.8% of employed specialist palliative medicine physicians were female which is about twice the proportion of all employed medical specialists (30.6%).
  • 76.1% of employed specialist palliative medicine physicians worked in a hospital setting, compared with about half (51.4%) 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 2013 to 2016. 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) . Further details on these data sources are outlined in data sources section.