concern over decline in new general practitioners

The numbers of new medical graduates registered as general practitioners has halved in two decades, according to new research from The University of Western Australia.

The study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, looked at the numbers of medical graduates from the UWA Rural Medical School during a 20-year period.

The team from UWA’s Rural Clinical School of WA examined the registration categories, as recorded by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), of people who graduated from the medical school from 1985 to 2007.

They found AHPRA registration as a general practitioner was about half as likely for 2004-2007 medical graduates as it was for 1985-1987 graduates.

This decline in entry into general practice was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of graduates with general registration status alone.

Lead author, Associate Professor Denese Playford from UWA’s Rural Clinical School of WA, said the falling number of GPs in Australia was a situation more commonly found in nations with poorer health outcomes.

“These findings are consistent with the recently reported drop in the proportion of medical graduates who intend to enter general practice, which may lead to a further decline in the number of AHPRA GP registrations,” Professor Playford said.

“We also found an equally concerning increase in the number of doctors practising as generally registered practitioners alone during 2007–2019, presumably waiting for the opportunity to enter their preferred medical specialty.”

Professor Playford said the causes included the perceived lower status of general practice, the generally lower income provided by Medicare fees, the burden of practice accreditation, and specialist-focused teaching in medical schools.

“Further challenges for GPs in rural practice include problems of work–life balance and the focus on fly-in/fly-out specialist services instead of developing extended scope primary care models for regional and remote communities,” she said.

“Our findings suggest that solutions for the GP problem are urgently needed if Australia is to continue enjoying some of the best health outcomes in the world.”