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International Medical Graduate’s (IMGs), also known as Overseas Trained Doctors (OTDs), are an important part of Australia’s general practice workforce, representing around 45% of all GPs in Australia since 2020. Balancing the supply of domestic and overseas-trained GPs is an important policy issue, but at the heart of the matter is what is best for the patient.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted GP supply in Australia, with border closures and migration reduction affecting the flow of IMGs able to practise. There is already a declining number of GPs working full-time with high retirement and discontinuation rates and a decreased interest in general practice. This reduced inflow of migrant doctors builds on this and contributes to the projected deficit of more than 10,500 GPs by 2032. As the projected demand for GP services is tipped to increase by 38% (47% in cities) by 2032, the need for more GPs in Australia has never been more critical, affecting Australia’s capacity to deliver quality and accessible healthcare to all Australians.

The RACGP wants to attract and retain suitably qualified IMGs and are requesting a support strategy incorporating more incentives and support, along with a reduction of red tape and administrative barriers to working in Australia. To address these issues, RACGP recently called upon the Joint Standing Committee on Migration to consider the migration barriers and limitations to the medical workforce supply.

They identified a narrow “front end” in the recruitment funnel, limited eligible international GP specialist qualifications, insufficient numbers of qualified supervisors, and a lack of support in rural areas for IMGs as impacting their capability to swiftly address the GP workforce supply.  Similarly a slow, costly, and bureaucratic process for registration and migration was resulting in a lengthy 12-18 month process for IMGs.

They are seeking a coordinated approach with commitment from the Department of Home Affairs, AHPRA and Medicare to work with the medical colleges to fast-track applications for GPs planning on working in areas of need via priority processing while ensuring rigor for assessing against standards is maintained. Alecto supports this approach, especially the streamlining of specialist GPs participating in the RACGP PEP Specialist Stream who face significant delays with their RACGP applications.

Furthermore they are requesting government funding to subsidize the training support program for IMGs through the RACGP’s Fellowship Support Program (FSP), which supports IMGs achieving general practice specialist recognition across rural and remote Australia.

Access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care should be the experience for all Australians irrespective of where they live.

Australia faces more competition than ever to recruit IMGs, as other nations seek to retain their own medical workforces and attract IMGs from around the world. It is now more important than ever that Australia’s system for attracting, recruiting and retaining IMGs be streamlined, effective and robust.

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