Welcome to the land of kangaroos, stunning landscapes, and a healthcare system that’s as diverse as the Great Barrier Reef.
Australia is not just a place; it’s a lifestyle. So, whether you’re drawn to its vibrant cities, the laidback coastal regions, or the vast outback, this country offers a lifestyle that blends work and play seamlessly.
The demand for general practitioners in Australia remains high, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) projecting a shortfall of as many as 10,600 GPs by 2031. Even the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) reports that the need for more GPs is likely to continue.
With a growing and aging population, there’s an ever-increasing need for healthcare professionals, making it an opportune time for international medical graduates (IMGs) or overseas trained doctors (OTDs) to make their mark in the local healthcare scene.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the essential details that will help you navigate the unique nuances of the Australian healthcare system. From understanding the registration process and accreditation requirements to insights on the Medicare system and cultural considerations in patient care, we’ve got you covered.
We’ll also explore the vast landscape of GP opportunities in Australia — from urban medical centres to regional practices — and provide tips on making a smooth transition into the Australian medical workforce.
So, whether you’re contemplating a move to Australia and work as a GP or you’ve already thrown your hat in the ring, grab your stethoscope, and let us help as you embark on your medical career in the Land Down Under.
Understanding the Australian Healthcare System
When it comes to working as a GP in Australia and the Australian healthcare system, two major players take the stage: the public sector and the private sector. Understanding the dynamics between these realms is crucial for any general practitioner looking to make a mark in the country’s medical landscape.
Public vs. Private Sector Healthcare
The public sector forms the backbone of healthcare accessibility in Australia. Government-funded hospitals and medical facilities provide essential services to the majority of the population. Here, patients can access medical care without hefty out-of-pocket expenses, thanks to the Medicare system.
On the flipside, the private sector offers a different flavour of healthcare. Private hospitals and clinics are scattered across the country, catering to those who seek additional services beyond what the public system provides. Patients often opt for private health insurance, which grants them access to a more extensive range of medical services and allows them to choose their preferred healthcare providers.
Medicare System — The Basics
Established in 1984, Medicare is the country’s public healthcare scheme, ensuring that all citizens and permanent residents have access to a wide range of medical services at little to no cost. This includes visits to general practitioners, public hospitals, and the subsidisation of prescription medications.
As a GP, understanding how Medicare works is paramount. It plays a pivotal role in shaping your GP practice, patient interactions, and overall financial structure.
Here’s how Medicare impacts GPs in their practice:
- Billing and Reimbursement: Medicare forms the backbone of billing for GPs. A portion of Australian GPs engage in bulk billing, a system where they bill Medicare directly for their services. This means that patients can visit a GP without having to pay anything out of pocket, as Medicare covers the cost.
- Bulk Billing and Patient Accessibility: Bulk billing enhances patient accessibility to healthcare services. GPs who bulk bill make medical care more affordable and accessible, especially for those who might face financial constraints. It’s a practice that fosters widespread healthcare availability across diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
- Medicare Rebates and Gap Fees: While bulk billing is common, some GPs may charge a gap fee. This is the difference between the Medicare rebate (the amount covered by the government) and the total cost of the consultation. GPs need to strike a balance here, ensuring they remain financially viable while considering the impact of gap fees on patient affordability and satisfaction.
- Chronic Disease Management and Allied Health Services: Medicare supports GPs in managing chronic diseases through specific care plans. GPs can coordinate patient care with other healthcare providers, such as physiotherapists or dietitians, and claim Medicare rebates for these allied health services. This collaborative approach fosters comprehensive patient care.
- Preventive Care and Immunisations: Medicare encourages GPs to focus on preventive care, including immunisations. Vaccinations for eligible patients are often bulk-billed, fostering public health initiatives and disease prevention on a broader scale.
- Access to Medical Tests and Procedures: GPs can order a range of medical tests and procedures for their patients, and Medicare often covers these services. This ensures that patients can undergo necessary diagnostic procedures without facing significant financial burdens.
- Incentives and Programs: Medicare provides various incentives and programs to encourage GPs to participate in specific healthcare initiatives. This may include participation in training programs, rural and remote healthcare services, and specialised care initiatives.
The Role of General Practitioners in Australian Healthcare
GPs are the frontline heroes of the Australian healthcare system, playing a central role in providing primary care, preventive services, and ongoing medical management. Their responsibilities are diverse, extending beyond mere diagnosis and treatment to encompass holistic patient care and community health promotion.
GP Responsibilities and Services
If you’re planning to work as general practitioner in Australia, knowing the responsibilities and typical services involved is crucial. These include:
- Primary Care and Diagnosis: GPs are often the first point of contact for individuals seeking healthcare. They conduct comprehensive assessments, diagnose illnesses, and manage a wide array of medical conditions. Their expertise spans across various medical fields, allowing them to address a broad spectrum of health issues.
- Chronic Disease Management: GPs are instrumental in managing chronic conditions. They develop care plans, coordinate with specialists, and monitor patients with long-term health issues, ensuring a cohesive and effective approach to ongoing healthcare.
- Preventive Care and Health Promotion: Prevention is key, and GPs play a crucial role in promoting healthy lifestyles and disease prevention. This includes recommending screenings, vaccinations, and lifestyle modifications to enhance people’s overall well-being.
- Mental Health Support: GPs are often the first point of contact for individuals dealing with mental health concerns. They provide initial assessments, offer counselling, and coordinate with mental health specialists when necessary.
- Women’s and Men’s Health: GPs address a range of gender-specific health issues, from reproductive health and family planning to men’s health concerns. They conduct routine screenings, provide advice on contraception, and monitor aspects like prostate health.
Working in a Practice vs. Hospitals or Clinics
Unsure about how to work as a GP in Australia? Or whether working in a practice, clinic or hospital would be the right fit?
Here’s an overview of what you can expect should you come to a decision or want to experience all three scenarios.
- General Practice: The majority of GPs in Australia work in private or group practices. This setting allows for continuity of care, as GPs build ongoing relationships with their patients. They often manage a diverse caseload, from acute illnesses to chronic conditions, and contribute to the overall health of their local communities.
- Hospitals and Clinics: Some GPs choose to work in hospitals or larger healthcare clinics. In these settings, GPs may be involved in more acute care, collaborate with specialists, and contribute to multidisciplinary teams. This environment can provide exposure to a broader range of medical cases.
- Rural and Remote Practices: GPs also play a crucial role in addressing healthcare gaps in rural and remote areas. Working in these settings often involves a more varied caseload, with GPs acting as primary healthcare providers for entire communities.
As you can see, the role of GPs in Australian healthcare is dynamic and multifaceted.
Whether in private practice, hospitals, or rural clinics, GPs are instrumental in delivering comprehensive, patient-centred care, and promoting the health and well-being of the Australian population.
Opportunities for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) and Overseas Trained Doctors (OTDs)
For OTDs and IMGs, knowing the requirements to work as a GP in Australia and understanding the intricacies of work locations is paramount. The regulatory landscape, primarily governed by Section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act of 1973, shapes where these doctors can practice.
Section 19AB is a crucial aspect of the Australian healthcare landscape. It imposes restrictions on OTDs in terms of where they can practice. Specifically, OTDs are required to work in District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) or Distribution Priority Area (DPA) locations for a set period before gaining unrestricted access to practise anywhere in Australia.
Take note that the DWS category applies to specialist medical practitioners whereas the DPA classification is used in relation to general practitioners.
These 19AB restrictions are designed to address healthcare workforce distribution imbalances, ensuring that doctors are strategically placed where their services are most needed.
The DPA and Moratorium
Distribution priority areas (DPAs) are specific geographical regions in Australia where there is a recognised need for additional general practitioner services.
The moratorium is a crucial aspect for IMG GPs who are subject to the 19AB restrictions. It specifies a period during which doctors must work in DPA locations or hold another 19AB exemption before gaining unrestricted access to practice anywhere in Australia. The goal here is for GPs to transition to non-DPA locations after fulfilling the 10-year mandatory period in a DPA.
Moratorium Exemptions Post-PEP
Following the completion of the Professional Evaluation Program (PEP Specialist Stream) with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) may provide exemptions from 19AB restrictions and the moratorium. This allows IMG GPs to explore work opportunities in non-DPA locations.
However, it should be noted that even in such cases, IMG GPs will still need to work in true DPA locations for the first 12 months or so whilst completing their PEP Specialist Stream program.
The landscape can vary across different states and territories, and exemptions may not apply uniformly.
Aspiring GPs should navigate these regulations carefully, consulting with relevant authorities and staying informed about updates and changes.
Job Opportunities in DPAs
For IMGs subject to 19AB restrictions, job opportunities in DPAs offer a pathway to contribute to underserved communities in Australia. Since DPAs are designated regions with a recognized shortage of medical practitioners, there is a high demand for GPs in these areas, creating numerous job opportunities for IMGs.
Various government initiatives and programs aim to attract and retain healthcare professionals in DPAs. This can include financial incentives, infrastructure development, and support for healthcare facilities.
Additionally, private practices in DPAs may actively seek IMG GPs to address the shortage of healthcare providers. Working in a private setting allows GPs to build a patient base and establish long-term relationships with the community.
While job opportunities in DPAs are abundant, IMG GPs should carefully research specific locations; understand the unique healthcare needs of the communities they may serve; and explore potential collaborations with local healthcare organizations to ensure a meaningful and rewarding professional experience for GPs and their patients.
What It’s Like to Work as a Locum GP
For GPs, the locum lifestyle offers a dynamic and flexible way to practice medicine.
Locum GPs step into various roles temporarily, covering for regular practitioners during periods of leave or staffing shortages.
GPs coming from overseas typically have the opportunity to explore locum opportunities after completing the PEP Specialist Stream with the RACGP, usually following a year of working in Australia.
Below are some key aspects of working as a locum GP:
- Diverse Experiences: Locum GPs experience a variety of patient cases, practice settings, and healthcare systems, enhancing their skills and adaptability.
- Flexibility: Locum work offers GPs the freedom to choose when and where they work, providing control over their schedules.
- Networking Opportunities: Locum roles provide chances to build professional networks and connections within the healthcare community.
While the locum lifestyle can be rewarding, it also comes with challenges such as adjusting quickly to new environments, building rapport with unfamiliar patients, and managing the variability of workloads.
Job Opportunities for GPs in Rural Areas
GPs willing to embrace rural practice contribute significantly to healthcare accessibility in regional and remote areas. Rural general practice offers unique experiences and opportunities to make a lasting impact on smaller communities.
Key Aspects of Job Opportunities in Rural Areas:
- Community Engagement: Rural GPs often develop strong connections with their communities, becoming trusted figures in local healthcare.
- Diverse Practice: Rural GPs handle a wide range of cases, combining primary care with emergency and procedural medicine.
- Incentives and Support: Some programs offer financial incentives, scholarships, or relocation support to encourage GPs to work in rural areas.
Financial Prospects: GP Earnings in Australia
The financial prospects for general practitioners in Australia are generally favourable, reflecting the essential role they play in the healthcare system. However, earnings can vary based on factors such as experience, location, type of practice, and the specific arrangements with healthcare providers.
The earnings of GPs in Australia can vary widely. On average, a GP with several years of experience can earn a competitive salary.
View our GP Salary in Australia page for information on GP earnings in Australia.
Of course, these figures are general estimates, and actual earnings can vary based on individual circumstances.
GPs in Australia enjoy a high level of professional autonomy and the potential for financial success, but it’s important to carefully consider factors like overhead costs, patient demographics, and the local healthcare landscape when evaluating their financial prospects.
Pathways for Overseas Trained Doctors to Work as GP in Australia
For overseas trained doctors aspiring to work as GPs in Australia, navigating the qualification, registration, and migration processes is essential.
Qualifications and Registration Process
Many OTDs from UK, Ireland, New Zealand and select other countries, enter the Australian medical workforce through the RACGP PEP Specialist Stream. This is a comprehensive program that includes assessments, supervision, and training to facilitate integration into the Australian healthcare system. These OTDs are not required to complete exams if they are found to be substantially comparable.
Other OTDs must have their medical qualifications recognised by the Australian Medical Council (AMC). This often involves completing the AMC exams, including the AMC multiple choice-question exam and the clinical exam.
Other requirements include:
- English Language Proficiency: Adequate proficiency in English is crucial. Most OTDs need to demonstrate their language skills by passing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Occupational English Test (OET).
- Australian Medical Board Registration: Successful completion of the AMC exams and proof of English proficiency allows OTDs to apply for registration with the Medical Board or Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Registration is a prerequisite for practicing medicine in Australia.
Migration Information and Visa Options
IMGs who wish to begin working as a GP in Australia need to take note of the following migration information and visa options:
- Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) Visa (Subclass 482): The TSS visa allows employers to sponsor overseas workers for up to four years. OTDs may be sponsored by healthcare providers to work as GPs, provided they meet the relevant criteria.
- General Skilled Migration (GSM) Visa: OTDs with the appropriate qualifications and skills may apply for a GSM visa, such as the Skilled Independent Visa (Subclass 189) or the Skilled Nominated Visa (Subclass 190). These visas grant permanent residency and the flexibility to work in various locations.
- Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) Visa (Subclass 187): GPs willing to work in regional or remote areas may consider the RSMS visa, which allows them to be sponsored by an employer in a designated regional area.
- Skilled Regional (Provisional) Visa (Subclass 491): The Subclass 491 visa is for skilled workers who wish to live and work in designated regional areas. It may be an option for GPs seeking to work in specific regions.
- Permanent Residency: Achieving permanent residency provides GPs with long-term stability in Australia. OTDs can explore pathways such as the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) Visa (Subclass 186) or the General Skilled Migration program for this purpose.
Navigating these pathways requires careful consideration of individual circumstances, qualifications, and preferences. OTDs would do well to seek guidance from relevant authorities, such as registered migration agents and the Department of Home Affairs to ensure a smooth transition into Australia.
Living in Australia as a GP
Once you decide and are able to work as general practitioner in Australia, where to live is sure to be a primary consideration. Of course, your choice of place may be greatly influenced by where you find work, whether you’re a New Zealander, Asian, Middle Eastern, or a UK GP working in Australia.
To help you out, here’s some quick info you might find handy:
- Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, offer diverse cultural experiences, vibrant lifestyles, and numerous healthcare facilities. However, the cost of living can be relatively high.
- Brisbane is known for its pleasant climate, top-notch city amenities and a more relaxed lifestyle.
- Perth is located on the west coast, and boasts beautiful beaches, plenty of outdoor activities and good quality of life.
- Adelaide is recognised for its affordability and a strong sense of community, offering a more relaxed pace of living compared to larger cities.
- Canberra, the capital city, provides a unique blend of urban amenities and a quieter atmosphere.
Work-Life Balance: What to Expect
GPs in Australia typically have structured working hours, offering a good work-life balance. While some may work evenings or weekends, the standard schedule allows for a balanced lifestyle. GPs often have flexibility in choosing their practice settings, allowing for a balance between professional and personal life. Options include private practice, group practice, or even locum work.
Australian healthcare emphasises patient-centred care, providing GPs with the opportunity to build strong doctor-patient relationships and contribute positively to community health.
Cost of Living and Financial Planning
The cost of living in Australia varies depending on the city and lifestyle. While larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne typically have higher living costs, regional areas and smaller cities may offer more affordability.
GPs in Australia generally have good earning potential. Financial planning is crucial, taking into account factors like taxes, insurance, and savings. Many GPs engage financial advisors to ensure effective long-term planning.
Population and Cultural Diversity
Australia is known for its multicultural society, with a diverse population representing various ethnicities and cultures. This diversity is reflected in the patient population GPs serve.
Therefore, GPs are encouraged to develop cultural competence to provide effective and sensitive care to patients from diverse backgrounds. This includes understanding cultural nuances and communication preferences.
Jumpstart Your GP Journey in Australia
To jumpstart your career as a GP in Australia, remember the preparation and steps you need to take:
- Ensure that your medical qualifications are recognized by the Australian Medical Council (AMC).
- Demonstrate proficiency in English by taking either the IELTS or OET.
- Apply for registration with AHPRA after successfully completing any requirements.
- Enter the PEP offered by the RACGP, if eligible, as it provides a pathway for OTDs to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in an Australian context.
- Decide whether you want to specialise in general practice or pursue a specific area within general practice, such as rural and remote medicine, sports medicine, or family medicine.
- Attend conferences, workshops, and events to network with fellow healthcare professionals. Joining medical associations and participating in continuous professional development (CPD) activities will enhance your skills and knowledge.
To find good GP jobs:
- Explore online job platforms specifically designed for healthcare professionals.
- Consider engaging with medical recruitment agencies that specialise in placing healthcare professionals.
- Check the websites of hospitals, health services, and regional health networks for job vacancies.
- Leverage your professional network and seek referrals from colleagues, mentors, or fellow GPs.
- Keep an eye on local industry publications, medical journals, and healthcare magazines as they often feature job advertisements and insights into the healthcare landscape.
- Explore opportunities in regional and rural health services, which may offer financial incentives or support for relocation.
You can also talk to us at Alecto as we provide support for IMGs seeking employment as general practitioners in Australia.
Jumpstarting your career as a GP in Australia involves meticulous preparation, networking, and leveraging various resources.
By staying informed about job opportunities, engaging with relevant platforms, and building a strong professional network, you can navigate the Australian healthcare landscape and find the right GP position to kickstart your career.
- Department of Health and Aged Care: https://www.health.gov.au/
- Department of Home Affairs (Immigration and Citizenship): https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/
- Medicare: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/medicare
- Medical Board/AHPRA: https://www.medicalboard.gov.au/
- RACGP: https://www.racgp.org.au/
- AMA: https://www.ama.com.au/