Over the horizon: The impact of the pending wave of medical graduates

15 Apr 2015

By Daniel White

Australia is currently experiencing a significant increase in the number of medical graduates. This increase is already placing pressure on the availability of intern training positions and will flow through to increased pressure on post-graduate training and entry into specialist medical colleges.

In 2000, Australia had approximately 1,400 medical graduates. In 2014, this increased to 3,484. The current wave of new graduates has been fuelled by a conscious decision to increase Commonwealth government funded university places together with universities increasing the number of lucrative international and full-fee paying graduates. The rate of growth is best illustrated in the below chart from a 2012 HealthWorkforce Australia report.

Number of medical graduates graph 

The initial impact of this increase is already affecting the availability of intern positions. The Australian Medical Students' Association has labelled it the 'national internship crisis' and in 2015 expects that for 3,676 applications for internships, there will only be 3,310 intern positions available. Whilst priority is given to Commonwealth-supported university students, it means that domestic and international full-fee students are not guaranteed positions with many forced to look overseas to complete their training.

This will also be felt in postgraduate medical training with the availability of clinical teachers, access to patients and teaching time, all requiring additional funding and support. In many fields, gaining entry into their respective specialist college is already posing a challenge. This may also become a future bottleneck for the next generation of medical graduates. Ways to increase the number of specialist training positions without negatively impacting the quality and skill of the practitioner, will be the next challenge. No doubt this will receive the ongoing attention of peak bodies and probably the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

So what is the impact on the price patients are willing to pay due to the increased supply of doctors?

Similar to any market the variance of supply and demand will impact the medical profession. In a static market, situations where supply dramatically exceeds demand will generally result in a reduction in the price that consumers are willing to pay for that good or service. So is it reasonable to assume that future billings and remuneration for medical professionals will be significantly lower?

As with any future prediction, time will tell but the answer is likely to be that no significant change will occur. The reason being is that the demand for health services in Australia is an increasing future need due to an aging population.

In a Health Workforce 2025 report, they expect a slight workforce shortage for doctors out to and beyond 2025. Market forces will prevail and gradually work to smooth out the uneven geographical distribution in particular the regional and rural shortfalls and the need for specialist services in the future. The report expects shortfalls in 2025 to be in the areas of obstetrics, ophthalmology, psychiatry, diagnostic radiology and radiation oncology.

While the increase in the number of graduates flowing out of Australian medical schools is positive, it will be important that the availability and quality of post graduate training meets this demand. Ultimately, the medical profession will continue to be a rewarding career both personally and financially, with the future demand supporting the next generation entering the profession.​

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