Fly-in doc­tors

More for­eign medics work­ing as GPs than Aus­tralian- trained grad­u­ates

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - SUE DUNLEV Y

THERE are now more over­seas-trained GPs prac­tis­ing in Aus­tralia than those who trained lo­cally, new gov­ern­ment fig­ures re­veal.

And with lo­cal med­i­cal grad­u­ates shun­ning gen­eral prac­tice to pur­sue higher-paid spe­cial­ties, doc­tors groups have warned the need for for­eign doc­tors high­lights a grow­ing cri­sis that will only get worse.

There were 12,950 full-time GPs who trained over­seas in the past fi­nan­cial year com­pared to 12,199 full-time doc­tors trained in Aus­tralia.

Even though the num­ber of do­mes­tic med­i­cal school grad­u­ates has more than dou­bled from 1320 in 2005 to 3055 in 2015, we are still im­port­ing 2000 for­eign-trained doc­tors a year and al­most half of them are GPs.

GPs from the UK, Ire­land, In­dia, China, South Africa and the Philip­pines are the back­bone of the ru­ral med­i­cal work­force and now pro­vide 79,071 ser­vices to pa­tients, com­pared to 72,486 ser­vices pro­vided by doc­tors trained in Aus­tralia.

They are also earn­ing more from Medi­care — $3.959 bil­lion a year com­pared to $3.709 bil­lion a year. Our re­liance on for­eign doc­tors un­der­lines how gen­eral prac­tice has be­come so unattrac­tive for lo­cal doc­tors that train­ing bod­ies were un­able to fill 400 of the 1500 GP train­ing places for 2019.

Royal Aus­tralian Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers pres­i­dent Dr Harry Ne­spolon warned that with no so­lu­tion in sight pa­tients should get used to be­ing treated by doc­tors from abroad.

“Many GPs are in their 50s and will be re­tir­ing in the next 10-15 years and there is a fem­i­ni­sa­tion of the work­force which means more part-time doc­tors,” Dr Ne­spolon said.

“There are more doc­tors avail­able but the hours they work is smaller and this means the ca­pac­ity of GPs is, rel­a­tively speak­ing, get­ting worse.

“For­eign doc­tors are do­ing a fan­tas­tic job but you have to ques­tion whether it is ap­pro­pri­ate for a first-world coun­try like Aus­tralia to be tak­ing doc­tors from Third World coun­tries. The col­lege be­lieves strongly we should be train­ing our own doc­tors, not im­port­ing them from the Third World.”

Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Dr Tony Bar­tone added: “Eth­i­cally speak­ing, these for­eign coun­tries need these doc­tors more than we do.”

With 10-12 years of ex­pen­sive train­ing re­quired to qual­ify as a doc­tor it is far more lu­cra­tive to be­come a spe­cial­ist.

Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice data shows male gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers in Aus­tralia earn around $184,639 per year, fe­male GPs earn $129,834, while brain sur­geons can earn three times as much — over $577,000 for men and $323,682 for women.

Med­i­cal spe­cial­ists make up four of the top 10 high­est earn­ing jobs in Aus­tralia and a 2007 study found Aus­tralian med­i­cal spe­cial­ists earned more than doc­tors in any other na­tion — 7.6 times the av­er­age na­tional in­come. GPs earn just 2.8 times the na­tional in­come.

A four-year freeze on re­bates saw the in­come GPs earn from Medi­care go back­wards last year. Plumbers, phys­io­ther­a­pists and den­tists all earn more per hour.

There are now 30,518 spe­cial­ists com­pared to 28,352 gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers.

The AMA also said con­di­tions for doc­tors work­ing in the bush were un­ap­peal­ing.

“When you have a scarce work­force you don’t have the lux­ury of flex­i­ble ros­ters or work­ing part-time. There are long hours and not many op­por­tu­ni­ties for their fam­i­lies,” Dr Bar­tone said

Pres­i­dent of Ru­ral Doc­tors NSW, Cooma GP Dr An­drew Ea­gan, who has em­ployed for­eign doc­tors for 30 years, said: “They are very good and the ru­ral health sys­tem would have com­pletely fallen over with­out them.”

In­dian-trained Dr Sa­teesh Kovurri. who was work­ing at Cooma Hos­pi­tal this week, is su­per­vised by Dr Ea­gan.

“I think over­seas trained doc­tors are very im­por­tant es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas,” he said.

Pic­ture Gary Ra­m­age

Dr Sa­teesh Kovurri was trained in In­dia but has been work­ing as a doc­tor in out­back and ru­ral Aus­tralia ralia for 10 years.

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