As the doctor shortage in the 1990s is projected to become a glut now, the federal government in Australia is currently considering whether to curb the influx of overseas-trained doctors.

With official data suggesting the oversupply of doctors could reach 7,000 by 2030, assistant Health Minister David Gillespie labels the status quo as “unsustainable”.

Current foreign doctor flow “unsustainable”

Gillespie will meet with the advisory group set up last year to assess whether Australia should now roll back measures put in place to address the shortage, such as bringing in more overseas-trained doctors and increasing medical student places.

Last year, the Health Department made a formal submission for changes in Australia’s immigration rules. The formal submission removed dental hygienists, prosthetists, technicians and therapists from the Skilled Occupation List, a list which identifies occupations the government thinks would benefit from overseas employees.

A spokeswoman from the Health Department said, "As the number of Australian-trained doctors has increased substantially over the past decade, it's timely to consider whether existing immigration markers are still appropriate for our health workforce needs.”

The department has also argued that Australian-trained doctors will struggle to find jobs if the immigration pathways are not closed.

President of Australia Medical Association, Michael Gannon, agreed the system was broken and said that bringing in doctors from developing nations in particular raised an ethical question.

"If an Australian town of people takes a doctor from South Africa, they were looking after 14,000 people, who then take a doctor from Uganda who might look after 24,000 people," he said.

Oversupply in cities and shortage in rural areas

According to Ewen McPhee, a GP in Queensland and president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, the migration programme intended to address the skills shortage issue in regional and remote Australia has failed. She proposed to encourage and support Australia’s local graduates into areas and specialties of need, rather than rely on short-term visas.

Despite the concerns raised, Gillespie insists Australia will still need to bring in overseas-trained doctors to fill gaps left by changed work patterns - female doctors choosing to work part-time and younger generations of doctors who are not working the longer hours of previous generations. They are also needed in remote locations where it is hard to attract local doctors.

On the other hand, Gannon stressed that Australia’s public hospitals in every state and territory are in a constant “state of emergency” as the public hospitals are overstretched because of inadequate and uncertain commonwealth funding, which is choking public hospitals and their capacity to provide essential services.

The changes may affect Malaysian medical graduates or doctors who intend to work in Australia and are thus advised to keep an eye on the latest workforce reform for a secured placement. MIMS

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