The Great Debate: Australia has an oversupply of doctors and the current model of medical school and vocational training is no longer fit for purpose in this context


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Sunday, May 26, 2019 - 09:00

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The maldistribution of Australia’s medical workforce is widely acknowledged, yet initiatives to resolve this have largely ignored reforms to medical school models and vocational training. 

The number of doctors in Australia has increased significantly over the past decade, driven by a rise in the number of medical schools and medical graduates. The number of doctors in Australia above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average at 3.5 per 1000 population (compared to UK 2.8 per 1000 and USA 2.6 per 1000 population).  At the same time, Australia had the highest growth in medical graduate numbers in the OECD between 2000 and 2015 at 15.8 graduates per 100,000 population, well above the OECD average of 12.1 per 100,000 population in 2015. This record growth in medical graduate numbers has raised concerns about a potential medical workforce oversupply in the years ahead.

Notwithstanding this, distribution of the medical workforce remains an issue both geographically and by specialty. Australia continues to rely heavily on overseas trained doctors to fill workforce gaps, particularly in rural and remote areas. Some medical specialties are in undersupply, with others in over-supply, especially in metropolitan areas. This is exacerbated by a shortage of vocational training places, increased competition for entry into vocational training and exit block for employment of new fellows.

This debate will explore a range of current and emerging issues in medical workforce policy and planning including but not limited to:

  • the large number of early postgraduate doctors waiting for vocational training positions and how this could be better addressed,
  • the number and distribution of specialist training positions and how these might be better aligned to community needs,
  • the current reliance on overseas trained doctors to fill specific workforce shortages and how Australia can improve self-sufficiency in medical workforce development, and
  • workplace culture, doctor health and wellbeing and how this could be improved.