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More doctors, but not enough: Australian medical workforce supply 2001–2012

Catherine M Joyce, John J McNeil and Johannes U Stoelwinder
Med J Aust 2006; 184 (9): 441-446.

Summary

Objective: To project the future size of the Australian medical workforce, from 2001  to 2012.

Design and setting: Stochastic simulation modelling of the Australian medical workforce, taking into account recent increases in medical school capacity and trends in the intake of foreign graduates.

Main outcome measures: Number of full-time equivalent (FTE) medical practitioners per 100 000 persons within various occupation groups from 2001 (baseline) to 2012.

Results: The total medical workforce was projected to rise from 53 384 in 2001 to 67 659 by 2012 (95% CI, 63 924–71 036). On a per capita basis, the number of FTE clinicians was projected to rise from 331 per 100 000 persons in 2001 to 382 (95% CI, 359–403) per 100 000 persons in 2012. The general practice workforce was projected to fall from 133 FTE general practitioners per 100 000 persons in 2001, to 129 per 100 000 persons in 2003, and then remain at around this level through to 2012. The specialist workforce was projected to show steady growth, rising from 162 FTE specialists per 100 000 persons in 2001 to 206 (95% CI, 194–218) per 100 000 persons in 2012.

Conclusions: The general practice workforce is likely to face continued chronic shortages, necessitating innovative policy responses to ensure that the community’s need for primary medical care is met. Retirement rates are a key determinant of workforce supply, suggesting a need to encourage general practitioners to remain active as long as they remain effective. Further refinement of stochastic models will help facilitate a more proactive approach to workforce planning.

  • Catherine M Joyce1
  • John J McNeil2
  • Johannes U Stoelwinder3

  • Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.


Acknowledgements: 

This research was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Primary Health Care Postgraduate Research Scholarship to Catherine Joyce, and a Project Grant from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Thanks to Odette Vogt and Glenice Taylor of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare for their assistance and advice on medical labour force survey data, and to Deborah Schofield for comments on a draft of this article.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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