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More doctors and nurses are joining a rapidly ageing workforce

20 October, 2009

The number of employed medical practitioners in Australia increased by almost 20% from 56,207 in 2003 to 67,208 in 2007, according to a report released recently by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The vast majority of these practitioners (over 90%) mainly worked in direct patient care, and of these, close to 40% were primary care practitioners, mostly GPs,’ said David Braddock, Head of the AIHW’s Labour Force Unit.

The report, Medical labour force 2007 found that women continued to gain ground in the workforce with females making up 34% of employed medical practitioners in 2007 compared to 32% in 2003.

The report also found that the medical practitioner workforce is ageing.

‘This is mostly attributable to female practitioners, because the proportion of women in the medical labour force aged 55–74 years increased while the proportion of women aged less than 45 years decreased,’ Braddock explained.

‘This suggests that the increasing numbers of young women joining the medical practitioner workforce over recent decades have stayed in the workforce, and statistically, have moved into older age groups,’ he said.

The age profile for male practitioners changed very little during the same period.

The report showed medical practitioners worked a slightly shorter week in 2007 – an average of 43 hours a week, compared with slightly more than 44 hours in 2003.

‘Although practitioners were working fewer hours per week, the rising numbers of practitioners resulted in an increase in supply overall,’ he said.

Measured by the full time equivalent of medical practitioners per 100,000 people, there was an increase from 279 in 2003 to 305 in 2007.

A second report released by the Nursing and midwifery labour force 2007 showed the number of nurses increased by over 11% between 2003 and 2007, and that nursing continued to be a female-dominated profession.

Men made up 10% of employed nurses, up from 9% in 2003.

The nursing workforce is also ageing. From 2003 to 2007 the proportion of nurses aged 50 years and over increased from 28% to 33%.

The average weekly hours worked by nurses, unlike for medical practitioners, rose over the 2003–2007 period. Nurses worked 33.3 hours in 2007 compared to 32.5 hours in 2003. The proportion of nurses working part-time (less than 35 hours per week) fell from 50% to 48%.

The number of full time equivalent nurses per 100,000 people increased from 1,017 in 2003 to 1,095 in 2007, this was an 8% increase.

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