Australia Closes the Door on Overseas Doctors - Slightly
The recent federal budget offers an apparent windfall for the Australian taxpayer - a $400 million saving for the country thanks to a reduced intake of overseas doctors by 200 per annum - an eye-watering saving for the good people of Australia and an easy win for the treasurer.
The much-maligned overseas trained doctor makes an easy scapegoat, blamed for everything from costing too much to providing a lower standard of care, despite little evidence to support either claim.
Will savings come from reduced prescribing via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme?
Let's take a closer look at the assertion that savings will come from reduced prescribing via the PBS. The idea that overseas doctors cost more on the PBS is a bit of a stretch. The only way this can be true is if foreign doctors are more senior than their local counterparts. When it comes to experience, 'you get what you pay for'. If I were sick in the outback, I'd be glad to receive treatment from a doctor with 20 years’ experience over a recent graduate.
The cost savings proposed may also come from fewer doctors prescribing, but I don't think anyone is advocating for a smaller medical workforce in rural and regional Australia, are they?
Does importing trained & experienced overseas Doctors really cost the country more?
The argument that overseas doctors cost the country on balance does not stand up either over the lifetime of a medical career. The real cost to the nation of a medical school education runs well into six figures per student (even if they pay some of it back). Australian governments and universities made the strategic decision, over the past decade or two, to increase the number of graduates by about 130%. That's roughly 20,000 additional home-grown medical students at a cost not appearing in this government's current budget figures.
Compare that to the cost of importing an already trained and experienced doctor from overseas. Perhaps the cost of relocation and recruitment, give or take? There's a reason why, as our government makes the argument that overseas doctors cost too much, other governments lament the brain drain of their medical talent.
Regional and Rural communities still have medical staff shortages.
Governments legislate, as is their right, and in this case they are legislating to reduce visa numbers for overseas doctors. Would this be necessary if rural and regional health employers did not feel compelled to look overseas for staff to keep their services running? The harsh fact is that there are still shortages in regional areas. You can thank the long-suffering OTD (Overseas Trained Doctor) for accepting the challenge of taking on the task of caring for our rural communities.
In the meantime, the government has a budget to balance and a message to promote. Some doctors, willing to come to Australia, will have wait for the wheel to turn full circle… as it always does.