The Ultimate Guide to Working in Australia as a Doctor

Interested in working abroad? Join thousands of doctors that have moved down-under! We present to you our ultimate guide to working in Australia as a Doctor.

An Introduction to Australia

Before we dive right into everything you need to know about working in Australia as a doctor, we probably should start off by exploring what Australia has to offer.

Australia is one of the best places to live in the world by all indices of income, human development, healthcare and civil rights. It is the Earth’s largest inhabited island and spans a total area 32 times the size of the United Kingdom. Today, Australia is one of the world’s most multicultural countries, with over a quarter of Australia’s population born overseas. Australia is also home to one of the oldest living cultures on Earth, with the Indigenous peoples of Australia having lived here for more than 65,000 years.

This awesome country has 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity, and there are a number of native plants, animals and birds that don’t exist in any other part of the world. The majority of Australia experiences temperate weather for most of the year, although northern states are typically warm and the southern states experience cool winters with snow on the higher mountains during the winter, enabling skiing in New South Wales and Victorian ski resorts.

POPULATION

 25,466,000 PEOPLE (2019)

CURRENCY 

AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR (AUD)

LIFE EXPECTANCY / CAUSE OF DEATH

Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of death in Australia for people over age 45, followed by cerebrovascular diseases, cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and respiratory diseases.

POLITICAL STRUCTURE

Constitutional monarchy, in which the legislative power of the Commonwealth is held by the Parliament. The Parliament consists of the Queen, represented by the Governor-General, and two Houses—the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

The healthcare system in Australia consists of the public and private sector. Across these sectors, there is commitment to high quality care and strong investment at all levels of health care service, from public and preventative health to primary care, to emergency and tertiary care and beyond.

SAFETY

Overall, Australia is a safe country by international standards. See this webpage for a breakdown of crime statistics in Australia.

TRANSPORT

Australia is a country of huge dimensions. Even so, travelling the country is easier than it seems. All the capitals of Australia boast a wide variety of public transport including buses, trams, ferries, monorail, light rail, etc. Air is often the best way to travel long distances in a short time. If you’re going overland, Australia has a good network of safe roads. Check out these truly iconic Australian road journeys from desert, to ocean to rainforest.

Greyhound offers bus tickets to fit all budgets. Train travel is an effective way to get around the cities and offers an alternative to air for travelling longer distances. Each state and territory has their own train network. Seat 61 is an fantastic blog giving all the information needed for long haul train trips. Check out the epic Ghan and Indian Pacific journeys that traverse the continent. 

HEALTHCARE

People who reside in Australia are eligible to access Medicare Benefits if they:

  • hold Australian citizenship or
  • have been issued with a permanent visa or
  • hold New Zealand citizenship or
  • have applied for a permanent visa.

Eligibility to Medicare by overseas visitors depends on the country of origin. Thus under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA) people from the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Slovenia, Malta and Italy are entitled to restricted access to health cover while visiting Australia. As a resident of the UK you are covered for the length of your stay in Australia even if you hold a student visa. Note that you cannot sign up for Medicare until you are in the country. In order to secure a visa (e.g. an e457 visa) you are required to have health care insurance so it is recommended to purchase a cheap insurance policy before your arrival.

Your Medicare entitlements are as follows:

  • free treatment in public hospitals,
  • subsidised medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital treatment provided by a doctor


For more details about insurance coverage visit the Australian government’s Human Services website.If you are not entitled to full Medicare cover you can still get an Overseas Visitors Health Cover (OVHC) which is provided by a range of Australian Health Funds and insurance companies.

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MEDICAL REGISTRATION

The Medical Board of Australia (MBA) is the body that governs the registration of medical practitioners in Australia. The Australian Medical Council (AMC) is the governing body that regulates standards of education, training and assessment of medical professionals in Australia. To become registered with the MBA, all international medical graduates (IMGs) must pass an assessment by the AMC. Approaching the task of applying to the AMC is no easy feat and any mistakes in your application can result in significant time delays. We’ve summarised the approach to applying in the infographic below:

ASSESSMENT – AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL COUNCIL (AMC)

There are 4 main registration pathways for International Medical Graduates (IMGs). The MBA website has a handy tool for checking your eligibility for each of the pathways . We’ve summarised the key information for each pathway below.

  • The Competent Authority Pathway: For overseas trained non–specialists, specialists and general practitioners who have completed training abroad, hold registration or have passed examination through a board approved competent authority. In the UK, the AMC-designated competent authority is the General Medical Council.
  • The Standard Pathway: Generally for non-specialist IMGs who are seeking general registration in Australia but who do not qualify for the Competent Authority or Specialist Pathway. International graduates who hold a qualification in medicine and surgery that are recognised by both the Australian Medical Council and the World Directory of Medical Schools (WDOMS) can apply under this pathway. Successful acceptance requires passing the AMC’s CAT MCQ examination. Upon passing, an AMC certificate is issued and you may then apply to the Medical Board of Australia for general registration. 
  • The Specialist Pathway: IMGs who are recognised specialists can apply under the following two categories:

Specialist recognition: overseas-trained specialists who are applying for assessment of comparability of their specialist training with that of the standard of specialist training in Australia (specialist recognition), or

Area of need: overseas-trained specialists (OTS) applying for a specialist level position in an area of need or workforce shortage in Australia 

As with the standard pathway, OTS’s must also show that their primary medical qualification is recognised by both the Australian Medical Council and the World Directory of Medical Schools (WDOMS). They must have fulfilled all the training and assessment requirements of their specialty in their country of training.

The short term training in a medical specialty pathway: This pathway is for IMGs who are OSTs or specialists-in-training who wish to undertake a limited period (usually up to 24 months) of specialist/advanced training in Australia. Again, the IMG must show that their primary medical qualification is recognised by both the Australian Medical Council and the World Directory of Medical Schools (WDOMS). They must also have completed all assessment requirements in their field of speciality, or be within 2 years of completing this assessment. Application for this pathway is made directly to the relevant specialist medical college using a board application form (AAMC-30) before applying to the board for registration. 

REGISTRATION WITH THE MEDICAL BOARD OF AUSTRALIA (MBA)

Once the AMC requirements have been satisfied, you can apply for registration with the MBA. Check out this website for a great breakdown of the application process. Registration will be granted in 5 key ways:

  • General Registration: Medical practitioners with general registration can practise in any state or territory in Australia. International Medical Graduates who have completed the requirements of the Competent Authority Pathway or the Standard Pathway can apply for General Registration.

Note: In order to become eligible for General Registration you must complete or show evidence of completion of 47 weeks full-time equivalent experience in supervised clinical practice, with 10 weeks completed in medicine, 10 weeks in surgery and 8 weeks in emergency medical care, respectively. 

  • Specialist Registration: Available to medical practitioners who meet the eligibility and qualification requirements.  See the  approved list of specialties, specialty fields and specialist titles for medical practitioners approved by the Ministerial Council.
  • Provisional Registration: For AMC holders via the competent authority pathway to undertake a period of supervised clinical training. 
  • Limited Registration: Available to medical practitioners whose medical qualifications are from a medical school outside of Australia or New Zealand. Limited registration may be granted for: work in areas of need (specialist or otherwise); postgraduate training or supervised practice; public interest (short term registration for public interest such as during a natural disaster, a pandemic or for an expert to demonstrate a new procedure); or teaching and research. 
  • Non-Practising Registration: For medical practitioners who are not currently practising but still remain on the register of medical practitioners. These practitioners do not treat, refer or prescribe.

VISAS IN AUSTRALIA

To work in Australia there are a variety of visas determined by several variables: age range, duration of stay, if you’re alone or accompanied, if you’re sponsored or nominated, and of course your nationality. Check out the Department of Home Affairs to find out which the type of visa suits your needs.

General practitioners, specialists and hospital non-specialists can apply for a visa if:

  • They have received their primary medical qualification in a country other than Australia, or
  • They have primary medical qualifications in Australia but are not permanent  Australian residents.

TEMPORARY VISA OPTIONS FOR DOCTORS:

Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482) 

Australia has recently made changes to the visa application process for overseas trained doctors. The old 457 long-term stay visa has been phased out throughout 2019 and replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482), the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) and the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187). These visas are similar to the older 457 visa, in that they are medium-long term visas and can be a stepping stone to permanent residency.

Check out the Department of Home Affairs for more information on the application process for each of these visas and up to date information on the recent changes.

Update for GPs 

There are also updated requirements for overseas trained GPs wishing to work in Australia, who will now need to obtain a Health Workforce Certificate from a Rural Workforce Agency. Under this new initiative, incoming overseas trained GPs will be directed to rural and regional areas of workforce need under the government’s skilled migration program.

For Research and Non-Clinical Work 

For non-clinical work, the old Training and Research Visa (subclass 402) has been replaced with the Training visa (subclass 407) or the Temporary Activity visa (subclass 408). These visas are appropriate if you:

  • wish to undertake occupational training
  • wish to participate in professional development
  • are an academic collaborating in research
  • are student/recent graduate wanting to undertake research at an Australian research institution.

PERMANENT VISA OPTIONS FOR DOCTORS

Once a full registration with the AMC has been completed, doctors may choose to apply for permanent residence under an employer sponsored or independent visa. There are different permanent options for doctors on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) website:

EMPLOYER NOMINATION SCHEME (SUBCLASS 186)

This is a permanent residency visa for skilled workers who want to work in Australia.

You can apply if you:

  • Have been nominated by an approved Australian employer
  • Are under  45 years old
  • Meet the skills, qualifications and English language requirements
  • Apply under the proper stream for which you are nominated

There are different streams:

  • The Temporary Residence Transition Stream is for subclass 457, the Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482), or bridging visa A/B/C and have worked full-time for three years in the same occupation with their nominating employer and has been offered a permanent position in that occupation
  • The Direct Entry Stream is for people who have been nominated by their employer under the Direct Entry Stream
  • The Labour Agreement Stream is for people sponsored by an employer through a labour agreement

REGIONAL SPONSORED MIGRATION SCHEME VISA (SUBCLASS 187)

This is a permanent resident visa for skilled workers who want to work in Regional Australia (Regional Australia does not include the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong or Melbourne) under one of three streams:

  • The Temporary Residence Transition Stream
  • The Direct Entry Stream
  • The Agreement Stream

This visa has the same requirements as the Employer Nomination Scheme (Subclass 186)

SKILLED INDEPENDENT VISA (SUBCLASS 189)

This visa is for skilled doctors who want to live and work in Australia as a permanent resident but don’t have an employer to sponsor them. In order to apply for this visa you need to submit an expression of interest with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and then be invited through SkillSelect to apply.

Once you have been invited to apply you must also have:

  • nominated an occupation that is on the relevant skilled occupation list
  • obtained a suitable skills assessment for that occupation
  • not yet turned 45 years of age
  • achieved the score specified in your letter of invitation based on the factors in the points test
  • at least a competent command of the English language

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MEDICAL POSITIONS AND SALARIES IN AUSTRALIA

Roles

Below is a description of hierarchical roles in the Australian Medical Service.

  • Intern:  A medical practitioner who has recently graduated from medical school, holds a certificate from the Medical Board of Australia and is learning medical practice in a hospital under supervision
  • Resident: A medical practitioner in their 2nd post-graduate year and in their first year of service after eligibility for full registration
  • Senior Resident Medical/House Officer:  A medical practitioner in their 3rd post-graduate year and in their second year of service after eligibility for full registration
  • Career Medical Officer: A medical practitioner who is not seeking a higher medical qualification and is also not undertaking an accredited course
  • Registrar: A doctor who is working towards a fellowship of a specialist medical college and is undertaking an accredited specialist training program in a clinical specialty with a nominated college
  • Senior Registrar:  A medical practitioner in an accredited course of study leading to a higher medical qualification who also has specialist registration with the Medical Board of Australia and has successfully completed Part One of the requirements for admission to a fellowship
  • Fellow: A medical officer who is in their second year of preparation after their successful examination as a Fellow of an Australian Specialist College, and has not yet been appointed as a Staff Specialist

Salary

The income of a doctor in Australia is lucrative and is usually based on the number of hours and patients seen. Your place of work (i.e. urban, rural, remote) and the type of work (i.e. full-time, casual, locum) will also influence overall pay. Salaries can be highly variable so check out our article on the Top 10 highest paying countries for doctors, where Australia is rated number 2!

DEFINITIONS

Medicare

Medicare is the scheme through which doctors who are registered in Australia are able to prescribe drugs, order diagnostic tests and refer patients to other doctors as well as to become eligible for Medicare benefits. In order to enjoy this scheme, doctors need a Medicare Prescriber number given by Medicare Australia and which serves both doctors employed in general practice and for private specialist practice.

Overseas Trained Doctors can’t obtain a Medicare Prescriber number unless they work in an approved District of Workforce Shortage (DWS).

To learn more about what Medicare is and what it covers visit the Department of Human Services Australia website.

District Of Workforce Shortage (DWS) or Area of Need 

A District of Workforce Shortage is an area that has a lower doctor population ratio than the national average. Thus the general population has less access to GPs. This designation is determined by the Commonwealth Department of Health (DoH).

Area Of Need (AoN)

An Area of Need is position based not location based. Under Section 67 of the Health Practitioners Regulation National Law Act 2009, the Ministers Delegate may classify a medical position as an AoN, to permit an International Medical Graduate who does not meet the minimum standard for medical practice to be registered under Limited Registration with the Medical Board of Australia.

It is required that health service providers who face medical workforce shortages demonstrate that they have been unable to recruit an Australian medical practitioner or an IMG with general registration into that specific position.

All positions requiring AoN declaration must first be classified as a District of workforce Shortage (DWS).


FINANCES, LIVING COSTS, SICK LEAVE, ENTITLEMENTS

In general, anyone earning an income in Australia is required to pay tax. All doctors in Australia will need to pay tax and will require a Tax File Number (TFN). The amount of income tax and the tax rate you pay depends on how much you earn. The more you earn, the higher your rate of tax.

Salary packaging enables you to use pre-tax income towards benefits and reduces the amount of tax you pay, giving you increased disposable income. This is often up to 30 % of your gross wage. The remaining 70% will be taxable. For a breakdown of individual income tax rates (exclusive of salary packaging), see the Australian Taxation Office website.

For a numerical and visual breakdown of living costs in Australia, see here.

Most hospitals usually give all doctors the following benefits in addition to salary packaging:

  • Sick Leave – Up to 10 paid days per year
  • Annual Leave – Up to 5 weeks paid leave per year
  • Superannuation (pension) – Money set aside over your working lifetime to provide for your retirement. All doctors working in Australia receive superannuation payments to the value of at least 9% of their salary
  • Many hospitals also provide subsidised meals, free or cheap accommodation and other perks

ACADEMIC AND TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES IN AUSTRALIA

Enrolling in Postgraduate training is possible in Australia once you’ve completed at least one year’s clinical work.

GP TRAINING

  • Australian General Practice Training (AGPT): This is an initiative which provides training for registrars towards gaining fellowships and specialist registration.
  • Remote Vocational Training Scheme (RVTS): Under this program medical practitioners do their training in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as well as other remote and isolated communities throughout Australia.

HOSPITAL NON-SPECIALISTS

If you are a doctor with no postgraduate qualification you can still work in public hospitals and receive a government salary. Overseas trained doctors can work in the following positions:

  • Internships (typically one year of supervised training is required by the Medical Registration Boards to achieve full medical registration)
  • Resident medical officers (RMOs/Hospital medical officers (HMOs)
  • Registrars (specialists-in-training)
  • Postgraduate trainees

POSTGRADUATE TRAINING

The first two years post-graduation are spent in public hospitals or community settings. After this, Vocational training programs are run by Specialist Medical Colleges and take between 3 and 7 years to complete.

Visit the Confederation of Postgraduate Medical Education Councils website for links to the relevant colleges.

FELLOWSHIPS

A fellowship can be undertaken once all other specialist training requirements have been completed. For more information on fellowships and their application process, visit the Confederation of Postgraduate Medical Education Councils website.

For more on guide to working in Australia as a Doctor, check out our other Australia articles:

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Holly Kristensen

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