The health workforce in Australia is large and diverse, covering many occupations. These include health practitioners registered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) as well as other health professionals and health support workers. Due to data limitations regarding the other professional groups, this page presents information on the health practitioners who were registered with AHPRA.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is the statutory authority responsible for administering the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS).

The current list of registered health professions includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners, chiropractors, Chinese medicine practitioners, medical radiation practitioners, occupational therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, psychologists, oral health therapists, dental hygienists, dental therapists, dental prosthetists, dentists, nurses, midwives and medical practitioners.

Health professionals may be registered in more than 1 profession with AHPRA. This page does not include AHPRA-registered professionals who are not in the labour force. All AHPRA numbers reported refer to registered health professionals who are employed in Australia and working in their registered profession.

Overview of registered health professionals

There were more than 586,000 registered health practitioners in Australia in 2018 (the latest available data from the Australian Government Department of Health), which includes 98,400 medical practitioners; 334,000 nurses and midwives; 20,600 dental practitioners; and 133,400 allied health professionals (Table 1).

Trends

Between 2013 and 2018 the Australian registered health workforce increased by more than 82,000 professionals (Table 1).

The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) health professionals per 100,000 population (FTE rate) rose steadily for each profession group from 2013 to 2018 (Figure 1).

Nurses and midwives continue to be the largest group of registered health professionals in Australia, at about 334,000 registered in 2018 (57% of all registered health professionals).

Relative to the Australian population, allied health workers and medical practitioners showed the greatest growth in FTE rate from 2013 to 2018 (an increase of 54 and 33 FTE per 100,000 people, respectively).

Table 1: Key workforce statistics by health profession, 2013 and 2018.

Profession

Measure

2013

2018

% change

Allied health (a)

Number of practitioners

108,680

133,388

22.7

FTE total

98,545

119,914

21.7

FTE per 100,000 population

426

480

12.7

Dental practitioners (b)

Number of practitioners

17,847

20,589

15.4

FTE total

16,604

19,045

14.7

FTE per 100,000 population

72

76

5.9

Medical practitioners

Number of practitioners

82,408

98,395

19.4

FTE total

88,382

103,725

17.4

FTE per 100,000 population

382

415

8.7

Nurses and midwives

Number of practitioners

295,060

333,970

13.2

FTE total

267,164

293,711

9.9

FTE per 100,000 population

1,155

1,176

1.8

All professions

Number of practitioners

503,995

586,342

16.3

FTE total

470,695

536,395

14.0

FTE per 100,000 population

2,035

2,147

5.5

Notes:

  1. Allied health professions include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners, chiropractors, Chinese medicine practitioners, medical radiation practitioners, occupational therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and psychologists.

  2. Dental practitioners registered with AHPRA include oral health therapists, dental hygienists, dental therapists, dental prosthetists, and dentists.

Sources: Department of Health 2020; ABS 2018.

Demographics

On average, Australia’s health workforce is predominantly female, and aged 20 to 34 years. However, there have been some notable changes between 2013 and 2018. There are more young health professionals in the workforce, and the proportion of female medical and dental practitioners has risen.

Between 2013 and 2018, the FTE rate of health professionals aged 20–34 years increased 18% (699 20–34 year old FTE per 100,000 people in the population in 2018 compared with 594 FTE per 100,000 people in 2013) (Figure 1). This is in contrast to the FTE rate of health professionals aged 45–54, which decreased by 8.3%, a reduction of 43 FTE per 100,000 people over the same period.

This change was largely driven by growth in the number of younger FTE nurses and midwives and medical practitioners relative to the Australian population. From 2013 to 2018, the FTE rate for nurses and midwives and medical practitioners aged 20–34 increased by 24% (69 FTE per 100,000 people) and 16% (16 FTE per 100,000 people) respectively.

Most of Australia’s health workforce is female—the ratio of FTE rates for health professionals that are women remains at around 2.5 times that of men. In terms of the overall number of health professionals, in 2018 this ratio increased to 3 times, with a total of 440,000 women and 146,000 men registered and employed in Australia’s health workforce.

Nurses and midwives and the allied health professions have remained female-dominated occupations since 2013. In 2018, the ratio of FTE rates for females in these occupations was over 7 times that of males for nurses and midwives, and nearly 2 times for allied health practitioners.

The proportion of both medical and dental practitioners that are women is rising. From 2013 to 2018, the FTE rates for female medical and dental practitioners increased 20% (27 FTE per 100,000 people) and 18% (5 FTE per 100,000 people) respectively. Over the same period, the FTE rate for male medical practitioners increased 2.6% (6.5 FTE per 100,000 people) and for dental practitioners decreased 2.5% (1.1 per 100,000).

Between 2013 and 2018, of all jurisdictions the Northern Territory had the highest number of registered health professionals relative to its population (2,790 FTE per 100,000 people in 2018). However, the Northern Territory also had the lowest dental practitioner FTE rate over this period (59 FTE per 100,000 people compared with 85 per 100,000 in South Australia). Between 2013 and 2018, New South Wales had the lowest FTE rate for all professions (2,014 FTE per 100,000 people in 2018).
 

The graphs show that the health workforce is getting younger (18% increase in FTE rate of 20 to 34 year old health professionals); that there is increasing numbers of female medical and dental practitioners; and that the Northern Territory had the highest number of health professionals relative to its population in 2018 (2,790 FTEs per 100,000 people).

Rural and remote areas

The accessibility of Australia’s health workforce is highly dependent on the distribution of its members in areas where they are most needed. Particularly for Australians living in regional and remote areas, difficulties in availability are common for patients seeking clinical services and specialised treatments from clinicians who may not work in areas close to them. The clinical FTE rate, in contrast with the FTE rate discussed above, indicates the full-time equivalent number of health professionals working clinical hours relative to the population.

For all registered professions, the number of employed FTE clinicians working in their registered professions decreased with remoteness, a trend seen each year since 2013 (Figure 2). There were also more registered clinical FTE health professionals in Major cities than in all regional and remote areas of Australia combined. In 2018, there were more than 347,000 FTE clinicians working in Major cities compared with 115,000 in all other remoteness areas.

Relative to the populations in these areas, Major cities had a greater number of working FTE clinicians (1,927 clinical FTE per 100,000 people in 2018) than each of the other remoteness areas.  For the other remoteness areas:

  • Inner regional areas had 1,679 FTE per 100,000 people
  • Outer regional areas had 1,550 FTE per 100,000 people
  • Remote areas had 1,733 FTE per 100,000 people
  • Very remote areas had 1,668 FTE per 100,000 people.
     

The number of FTEs and FTE rate of all health professionals decreased with remoteness, a pattern consistently seen from 2013 to 2018. For nurses and midwives, however, remote and very remote areas (1,137 and 1,191 FTEs per 100,000 people, respectively, in 2018) had a greater FTE rate compared with major cities (1,030 FTEs per 100,000 people in 2018).

Major cities have greater access to clinicians

In 2018, the FTE rate for health professionals working clinical hours was highest in Major cities (1,927 clinical FTE per 100,000 people) compared with all other remoteness areas.

This trend is also seen when looking at each of the health profession groups, except for nurses and midwives. Both Remote and Very remote areas have a greater number of registered and working clinical FTE nurses and midwives relative to the population in these areas. In 2018, there were 1,191 FTE clinical nurses and midwives per 100,000 people in Very remote areas compared with 1,030 in Major cities.

According to reports published by Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand, using the Medical Schools Outcomes Database, graduating medical students have shown consistent preference for practising in capital cities. In 2018, 64% of surveyed medical students indicated a preference to work in capital cities (Table 2). In contrast, only 18% of students indicated a preference to work in regional cities, small towns or small communities.

See Rural and remote health.

Table 2: First preference region of future practice, by region, 2014–2018.

First preference region of future practice

Capital city

Major urban centre

Regional city or large town

Smaller town

Small community

Total

2014

Number

1,693

352

266

78

33

2,422

Per cent

69.9

14.5

11.0

3.2

1.4

100

2015

Number

1,240

367

231

84

36

1,958

Per cent

63.3

18.7

11.8

4.3

1.8

100

2016

Number

1,407

361

266

97

32

2,163

Per cent

65.0

16.7

12.3

4.5

1.5

100

2017

Number

1,342

365

262

87

35

2,091

Per cent

64.2

17.5

12.5

4.2

1.7

100

2018

Number

1,395

380

280

89

29

2,173

Per cent

64.2

17.5

12.9

4.1

1.3

100

Source: MDANZ 2019.

Occupations working the most hours

The FTE number is calculated based on the total hours worked in a ‘standard working week’, which may change depending on occupation. For example, a standard working week for medical practitioners is considered to be 40 hours. The ratio of FTEs relative to the number of health professionals therefore provides an overall indication of whether occupational groups worked longer or less than their standard hours.

Between 2013 and 2018, medical practitioners were the only occupational group whose total FTEs was greater than the number of practitioners, indicating that medical practitioners overall worked more than their full-time equivalent of 40 hours a week (Table 1). This is in contrast to allied health practitioners, nurses and midwives, and dental practitioners, where total number of practitioners exceeded total FTEs over the same period. This may indicate increasingly part-time arrangements for these practitioners.

Overall among medical practitioners, specialists, specialists-in-training and hospital non-specialists worked longer hours (ratio was greater than 1) than their full-time equivalent (Figure 3).
 

Among specialists, specialists-in-training and hospital non-specialists, the ratio of total FTEs to number of practitioners was greater than 1 from 2013 to 2018 indicating that these medical practitioners overall are working longer than their full-time obligation. Over the same period, general practitioners, other clinicians and non-clinicians had a FTE to number of practitioners ratio less than 1, indicating these health professionals worked less hours than their full-time obligation with non-clinicians working the shortest hours.

Non-registered health professions

Many people employed in the health sector work in occupations that are not registered by AHPRA and there are less available data for these groups. These members of the health workforce still play an important role in delivering health services to Australians and include, for example, dieticians, clerical workers, health information managers, welfare professionals, service workers, cleaners and gardeners.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016 Census of Population and Housing, more than 820,000 people reported working in the health services industry (ABS 2017). Outside of the AHPRA-registered professions, this included around 13,200 ambulance officers and paramedics; 21,000 medical technicians; 21,000 dental assistants; and 26,100 nursing support and personal care workers.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the health workforce, see:

Visit Workforce for more on this topic.

References

AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) 2017. Who we are. Viewed 22 June 2020.

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. ABS Census TableBuilder. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 30 October 2019.

ABS 2018. Australian demographic statistics, Jun 2018. ABS cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019. Regional population growth, Australia, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 3218.0. Canberra: ABS.

Department of Health 2019. New arrangements for the Bonded Medical Program. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 15 October 2019.

Department of Health 2020. Health workforce data tool. Canberra: Department of Health.

MDANZ (Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand) 2019. National data report 2019. Sydney: MDANZ. Viewed 15 October 2019.