Doctor shortages or oversupply? Conflicting headlines

oversupply or shortage of doctorsYou could be forgiven for being confused about whether the is an oversupply or undersupply of doctors in Australia.

In recent weeks, while the ABC has reported on a doctor shortage in rural Australia, the Australian Medical Association President has been talking about an oversupply of doctors and an undersupply of training places.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Michael Gannon, said that the problem isn’t a shortage of medical graduates. With medical school intakes now at record levels, he says that we don’t need more medical students or any new medical schools. Dr Gannon says that what we need are more and better opportunities for doctors, particularly those who come from the bush, to live and train in rural areas.

Doctors who have a rural background and train in a rural area are much more likely to practice in a rural area in the long term, according to a study, Vocational training of general practitioners in rural locations is critical for the Australian rural medical workforce.

The AMA has also called for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the medical workforce and for more women in health care leadership. The AMA believes that combination of realistic targets and positive strategies would attract doctors from diverse backgrounds. One of the strategy is the 2017 AMA Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarship in which the winner will receive $10,000 each year for the duration of their course.

The National Medical Training Advisory Network Executive Committee (NMTAN) revised membership for its Capacity for and Distribution of Medical Training Subcommittee at the NMTAN meeting on 1 September 2016. A new project to address under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors across all medical specialities was discussed.

Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) President, Rob Thomas, said that the last thing we need is more students. AMSA has rejected a call for more federally-funded medical student places at the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital, citing that the campaign failed to recognise the broader issues surrounding medical workforce shortages in rural and regional Australia.

“More medical student places do not correlate to more doctors, let alone to more doctors servicing rural and remote areas,” said Mr Thomas.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released a report that highlight a shift in the medical workforce such that there are now more non-GP specialists. The report showed that while the supply of GPs is keeping pace with population growth, the number of medical practitioners working in, or training to take on, specialist roles is growing faster.

Following is an overview of Australia’s medical workforce in 2015:

  • 102,805 medical practitioners were registered in Australia in 2015, with 88,040 employed medical practitioners. This is an increase of 3.4% compared to 2012.
  • 2 in 5 employed medical practitioners were women (40.1%). This is a slight increase from 2012 (37.9%).
  • About 1 in 4 employed medical practitioners were aged 55 or older (27.2%). This is slightly higher than 2012 (26.6%).
  • 42.4 hours average per week were worked by medical practitioners. Men worked 44.9 hours and women 38.6 hours. In 2012, men worked 45.3 hours while women worked 38.3 hours.
  • 95.1% of all employed medical practitioners worked in a clinical role. This is a slight increase from 2012 when 94.5% worked in a clinical role.
  • 3,210 domestic students commenced medical undergraduate training in Australia in 2015. This is an extra 175 students compared to 2012.


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