Briefing paper

Medical practitioners: education and training in Australia

17 Jul 2009

Medical practitioners -- general practitioners and other medical specialists, hospital non-specialists and specialists-in-training -- are a fundamental and vital component of the health workforce. Medical practitioners diagnose physical and mental illnesses, disorders and injuries, provide medical care to patients and prescribe and perform medical and surgical treatments to promote and restore good health.

In 2006, there were an estimated 71, 740 medical practitioners registered in Australia, and most of these were working in medicine throughout the country. The overall supply of employed medical practitioners in Australia increased in the period from 2002 to 2006. During the same time, however, the supply of general practitioners decreased.

The overall number of medical practitioners in Australia in 2006 was less than the number of practising doctors in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, but more than the numbers of doctors practising in comparable countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Prior to the mid 1990s, it was believed that there were adequate numbers of medical practitioners to service the needs of the Australian population. As a consequence, the Australian Government placed a cap on the number of university places provided for medical students. In the view of some commentators however, this restriction on places contributed to what was a shortage of general practitioners. In addition, the cap led to shortages at the junior hospital doctor level, in part because there were not enough second-year interns to fill these positions in the public hospital system. 

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