17 March 2023

RACGP: international medical graduates can help address Australia’s health worker shortage

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging the government to make it easier and more attractive for international medical graduates (IMGs) to work in Australia to help address the health system crisis.

Australia’s largest representative body for GPs nation-wide, the RACGP made the recommendations in a submission to the Senate Joint Standing Committee on Migration, including:

·    fast-track applications for IMGs planning on working in areas of need

·    reinstate the subsidy for IMGs’ training to become a specialist GP in Australia and support relocation

·    boost support for GPs with advanced skills in rural and remote communities

·    work with indigenous groups to develop cultural training for doctors before they start practice in Australia

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said international medical graduates are eager to work in Australia but are held back and becoming disillusioned by red tape and lack of support.

“Australia’s health system is in crisis and one of the key issues is that we have a shortage of workers right across the board, including GPs, pharmacists and nurses,” she said.

“Rural and remote communities are particularly affected. Lack of access to health services causes worse health outcomes and lower life expectancy in rural areas.

“But there is a simple solution to boost the number of GPs in the short-term: we can and should be doing much more to attract international medical graduates to Australia, and to support and retain them as valuable community members.

“This includes cutting red tape and making the application process easier for doctors who want to work in areas of need.

“The RACGP is recommending the Department of Home Affairs, Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and Medicare work with the medical colleges to fast-track applications for GPs. There also needs to be a coordinated approach to processing applications, and we recommend the Rural Workforce Agencies or similar, are tasked with this job.

“The government used to subsidise the training for international medical gradates to practise as a specialist GP in Australia, but this subsidy ended last year. At a time when our health system is in crisis and people across the nation are struggling to get into a GP, why would we add yet another barrier to the path for overseas doctors to work in Australia? It makes no sense.

“We are calling for the government to return the subsidy for international medical graduates who want to work as a specialist GP in Australia through the RACGP’s Fellowship Support Program. It’s an easy way boost GP numbers in communities in need.”

RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements said the goal should be making Australia the destination of choice for medical graduates overseas.

“Australia’s health system is world class and there are countless highly qualified medical graduates overseas in places like the UK, Europe and Asia, who want to come here to work and live,” he said.

“And this is reflected in the fact that international medical graduates account for almost 50% of Australia’s GP workforce. They are a valuable part of our health system and contribute to communities across our nation every day.

“While governments need to do a lot more to encourage people born here to want to become a GP by adequately funding and valuing general practice care, international graduates can help address areas of need in the short-term.

“Another way to boost the number of GPs in rural communities is to offer more incentives to those with additional skills training. Because rural GPs often do additional training so they can provide medical services that would not otherwise be available in their communities, such as emergency care, obstetrics, or palliative care. If we reward GPs more for obtaining and providing these additional skills, particularly in more remote areas, it will be more attractive to work there.

“It’s a simple solution but we need action urgently because there is no substitute for GP care and too many people across the country are missing out. The evidence shows ongoing GP care results in better health and wellness – and everyone needs it, no matter their income or postcode.”

Chair of the Rural Workforce Agency Network Peter Barns said the Rural Workforce Agencies back efforts to streamline the journey for international medical graduates to come to Australia.

“International medical graduates currently make up 53% of the rural medical workforce. They, and their families, enrich the communities they work in, and the Rural Workforce Agencies support efforts to simplify and streamline their journeys to practice in Australia. We look forward to working with the Government and key stakeholders to add concrete actions to our best intentions,” he said.

Media enquiries

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