Foreign Doctor Recruitment to Be Streamlined to Deal With Chronic GP Shortage

Foreign Doctor Recruitment to Be Streamlined to Deal With Chronic GP Shortage
A doctor speaks with a patient during triage at the St George Hospital in Sydney, Australia, on May 15, 2020. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Foreign doctors will find it easier to work in communities across Australia under new changes to fill GP shortages.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) on Aug. 1 said it would fast-track the process of recruiting international medical graduates who have been trained overseas.

They will also reduce the minimum time requirements for training and widen the types of training accepted.

College President Nicole Higgins said medical colleges wanted to make the journey for foreign GPs easier.

“The RACGP has been advocating to make it easier and more attractive for international medical graduates to come to Australia, to get more GPs into communities that need them,” she said in a statement.

She added that the college was “committed to doing what we can to make it simpler, less onerous, and more streamlined.”

Dr. Death Case

But Ms. Higgins noted that the college was “strongly against” former senior bureaucrat Robyn Kruk’s recommendation that comparability assessments—which determine if a foreign doctor is qualified to practice in Australia—be applied to the Australian Medical Council.

“The inquiry into the ‘Dr. Death’ case at Bundaberg Base Hospital made clear the risks to patient safety when specialist colleges don’t have responsibility for assessing specialist IMGs (international medical graduates),” she said.

“We cannot risk this happening again.”

“Dr. Death” refers to an Indian-born surgeon, Jayant Patel, who was accused and found responsible for gross negligence while practicing, linked to the deaths of at least 87 patients. He was convicted of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm in 2010.

In 2015, he was banned from practicing medicine in Australia.

Ms. Higgins stressed that training and comparability assessments must consider where foreign doctors work, because “practicing in a rural area is very different to an urban area.”

“Rural doctors need to have the right skills and ability to work independently because there is often less support available, as well as cultural safety training,” she said.

“We largely support the report’s other recommendations, including a single portal for applications, the removal of labour market testing for employers sponsoring visas for priority practitioners, broadening age exemptions for permanent skilled visas to include key practitioners, and continued workforce support and demand modelling.”

In Australia, international medical graduates account for around 50 percent of the country’s rural medical workforce.

“They make a valuable contribution to the communities in which they work and live. There is much more we can do to make their journey here easier and ensure they have the support to thrive, and I look forward to doing all I can as RACGP president to make this happen,” Ms. Higgins said.

GP Shortages Hit Regional Areas Hardest

GP numbers currently lag behind growing demand. A report by the Australian Medical Association last year predicted the shortfall of doctors to rise to 10,600 by 2031-2032. It also found demand for GP services rose 58 percent between 2009 and 2019.

The shortage has resulted in a lack of access to healthcare in regional and rural areas, poorer patient health outcomes, and increased spending on hospital services.

“We are staring at this unimaginable shortage of GPs in our future and our projections show these pressures are just not going to ease up,” said AMA President Professor Steve Robson.

“It should come as no surprise that we’re failing to fill all our available GP training places each year given the impact of the extended freeze on Medicare rebates for GP services, cuts to pre-vocational GP training places, and the abject failure of governments to deliver the support general practice needs to deal with the increasingly complex health care needs of the community.”

“We need long-term solutions to improve access to GP-led care for patients, including in rural and remote areas that have been hardest hit by workforce shortages. Right now, we need all levels of government to work together with the health sector to resolve the GP workforce issues. These state-based quick fixes are not the answer.

In a submission handed to this year’s Senate Joint Standing Committee on Migration, Ms. Higgins said 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 at the time.

Since 2020, overseas graduates have represented about 45 percent of all GPs in Australia, and more than 50 percent of GPs have attained their medical degree overseas.

AAP contributed to this article. 
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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