Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Repaving the path to Australia for international health workers
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Repaving the path to Australia for international health workers

18 Aug 2023

As we await the final outcomes of the review into Australia’s regulatory settings for internationally qualified health workers, we have taken a deep dive into the challenges on the ground for many regional communities struggling to attract health workers.

Key points
  • New episode of Ahpra’s Taking care podcast examines the path overseas health workers must tread when wanting to work in Australia’s health system.
  • From WA’s largest health employer, to an on-song regional Victorian town and a far north Queensland shire desperate for practitioners, Taking care gets an on-the-ground perspective of historic health workforce pressures exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • With the final recommendations of a wide-ranging review into Australia’s regulatory settings for international health workers being handed down soon, we look at what solutions are on the table, why they are needed, and what impact they may have in the areas health workers are most wanted.

In this episode of Taking care we hear from an international medical graduate who is happily working in the Australian health system, the Mayor of a regional Queensland shire where locals are leaving town because of the lack of medical care, the largest health employer in WA, and the CEO of a health network who helped her town record a song to attract their own GP.

Five years after recording their own song ‘We want a GP’ to the tune of Queen’s ‘We want to break free’, the Victorian town of Kerang is again battling to find a permanent health workforce.

‘Where we’re located is challenging if you come from a different background. For example, we had a doctor who was Muslim (but) we’ve got no Halal restaurants in Kerang, there’s no mosque here, these are all things that need consideration,’ Northern District Community Health, CEO, Mandy Hutchinson told Taking care.

The process of migrating to a new country and proving you’re safe to work here as a health practitioner can also be a challenge for a lot of overseas practitioners.

Registrar Ashton Yap came to Australia in 2020 to work in Townsville. While he had a reasonably smooth path into the workforce, he knows many of his colleagues overseas see bureaucratic barriers as a major obstacle.

‘Medicine is very heavily regulated, and rightfully so. We have a council that govern the way that we practice, someone who makes sure we practice at a standard of care - or world class care - that we are very proud to offer,’ Dr Yap said.

In the interim findings of a national review into the system overseas practitioners must navigate, Robyn Kruk AO outlined immediate actions that governments and regulators can take to attract more health workers to Australia. This included greater recognition of overseas health practitioners’ expertise, removing duplication so applicants only have to provide required information once, and greater flexibilities in the migration system. 

These complexities are something the northern Queensland Cassowary coast shire knows all too well. According to Mayor Mark Nolan, the red tape to get overseas workers to the area means locals are having to travel huge distances to get care or, for some, leaving towns altogether. Within the north Queensland primary health network catchment, 10 general practices have closed since 2021.

‘An example is Mission Beach, 4000-plus residents, no doctor. Once people need medical attention outside of our region they relocate, because they’re getting on in years and then their children relocate to follow Mum and Dad, and the grandchildren do likewise,’ Mayor Nolan said.

Jeff Moffet is the CEO of the WA Country Health Service. As the largest health employer in Western Australia the lack of workers coming into the country during the pandemic has had huge impact. Once they are able to work in Australia, keeping them engaged and retaining their expertise is the next issue, according to Mr Moffett.

‘We are looking now to rely more on overseas migration than in the past as we experience significant workforce shortages particularly in that experienced workforce category of staff,’ Mr Moffet said.

‘Migration is really only one part of the solution and it really shouldn’t be the primary part of the solution, growing our own workforce has been a big strategy for us and needs to remain a big strategy nationally.’

But once they are settled, practitioners can thrive in Australia, much like Dr Yap.

‘It met all my expectations, and sort of exceeded my expectations in some realms. People here are great, the weather here is great, I don’t feel like a foreigner and that’s the beauty of it isn’t it, they just treat me like I’m one of their fellow Australians even though I’m not.’

Listen to the full episode here.

Did you know?

The Taking care podcast series offers professional and consumer perspectives on current issues and answers some frequently asked questions about public safety in healthcare. Download and listen to the latest Taking care episode today. 

You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking Care’ in your podcast player.

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Page reviewed 18/08/2023