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Open Access Research

Foreign-born health workers in Australia: an analysis of census data

Joel Negin1*, Aneuryn Rozea1, Ben Cloyd2 and Alexandra LC Martiniuk134

Author Affiliations

1 Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

2 University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE, USA

3 George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, Australia

4 Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Bloomberg School of Nursing, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

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Human Resources for Health 2013, 11:69  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-11-69

Published: 31 December 2013

Abstract

Background

Provide an up-to-date national picture of the medical, midwifery and nursing workforce distribution in Australia with a focus on overseas immigration and on production sustainability challenges.

Methods

Using 2006 and 2011 Australian census data, analysis was conducted on medical practitioners (doctors) and on midwifery and nursing professionals.

Results

Of the 70,231 medical practitioners in Australia in 2011, 32,919 (47.3%) were Australian-born, with the next largest groups bring born in South Asia and Southeast Asia. In 2006, 51.9% of medical practitioners were born in Australia. Of the 239,924 midwifery and nursing professionals in Australia, 127,911 (66.8%) were born in Australia, with the next largest groups being born in the United Kingdom and Ireland and in Southeast Asia. In 2006, 69.8% of midwifery and nursing professionals were born in Australia. Western Australia has the highest percentage of foreign-born health workers. There is a higher percentage of Australia-born health workers in rural areas than in urban areas (82% of midwifery and nursing professional in rural areas are Australian-born versus 59% in urban areas). Of the 15,168 additional medical practitioners in Australia between the 2006 and 2011 censuses, 10,452 (68.9%) were foreign-born, including large increases from such countries as India, Nepal, Philippines, and Zimbabwe. We estimate that Australia has saved US$1.7 billion in medical education costs through the arrival of foreign-born medical practitioners over the past five years.

Conclusions

The Australian health system is increasingly reliant on foreign-born health workers. This raises questions of medical education sustainability in Australia and on Australia’s recruitment from countries facing critical shortages of health workers.

Keywords:
Australia; Doctors; Health workforce; Migration; Nurses