More foreign medics working as GPs than Australian- trained graduates
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.
Dr Sateesh Kovurri was trained in India but has been working as a doctor in outback and rural Australia ralia for 10 years.