Overseas trained medical practitioners form a key part of the medical workforce in Australia, not only in rural and remote areas, but in all areas of Australia.
In 2010–11 there were 3,220 medical practitioners granted visas in the three main visa subclasses (422, 442 and 457). This is a little more than the 3,190 visas granted in these subclasses in 2009–10.
Just under one third (32.0%) of these visas (in 2010–11) were granted to applicants from the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. Although the number of visas granted to Indian applicants has decreased, India remains a key supplier of medical practitioners to this country with 12.0% or 390 of all visas being granted to medical practitioners from India (compared with 420 or 13.1% in 2009–10). A number of other Asian countries (Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Singapore) are also major suppliers of medical practitioners, as are Canada, South Africa and Iran.
In 2006, COAG agreed to the introduction of a nationally consistent assessment process for international medical graduates and overseas trained specialists. This process now consists of three main assessment streams: the Competent Authority Pathway, the Standard Pathway and specialist pathways. The Australian Medical Council (AMC) is responsible for processing applications by international medical graduates and overseas trained specialists.
In 2010, the AMC assessed 1,355 applications through the Competent Authority Pathway, with 513 applicants being granted AMC Certificates allowing them to then apply for general registration.
Under the Standard Pathway 1,999 applicants passed the Multiple Choice Questionnaire examination and 1,013 applicants passed the AMC clinical examination.
There was a total of 1,564 specialist applications processed by the AMC in 2010. Medical colleges conduct the assessments of comparability to Australian standards for the specialties and found 469 substantially comparable and a further 288 partially comparable (that is requiring up to two years upskilling to reach comparability).
Of these 469 overseas trained specialists whose specialist qualifications were recognised, almost half (210 or 44.8%) came from the United Kingdom and Ireland, some 126 more than in 2009. Eighty four or 17.9% of applicants were from India. This was slightly less than the 93 in 2009 (Figure 10).
Figure 10: Country of training of overseas trained specialists with approved applications, 2010D
Source: Australian Medical Council administrative data, 2010
Medical practitioners who have trained overseas can apply for exemption under Section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act 1973 (the Act), which limits their practice for a defined period to areas of workforce shortage, as defined by the Australian Government. These ‘Districts of Workforce Shortage’ are determined on the basis of the area having less access to Medicare than the national average.
At June 2011, there were 7,461 overseas trained doctors with Section 19AB exemptions restricting their practice to Districts of Workforce Shortage in order to access Medicare benefits for the services they provide.
Although overseas trained doctors comprise a higher proportion of the medical workforce in more remote areas of Australia, the majority work in Major cities and Inner regional areas.
There is considerable variation between states and territories in the overall and relative numbers of overseas trained doctors, as well as where they are working. Queensland had relatively high numbers across all Remoteness Areas, whereas Western Australia has relatively more overseas trained doctors in Remote and Very remote areas and Victoria had higher numbers of overseas trained general practitioners in its Major cities.