Where in Australia can doctors work as an IMG

7 min | Medical Careers
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Elinor Faulkner

November 26, 2020

Ensuring that doctors are placed for work where they are most needed

Australia welcomes many internationally trained medical graduates (IMGs) each year. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has created, IMGs are still needed in Australia and doctors are still able to make the move as they are often exempt from the current travel restrictions.

To try and spread the medical workforce evenly around Australia and ensure that IMGs are placed for work where they are most needed, there are several rules in place in regards to where an IMG can practice in Australia. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work in a rural location, but there are factors to consider when you start planning your move.

Medicare Benefits Schedule

The main method that the Australian government uses to determine where an IMG may work is through the Medicare billing program via the 10-year moratorium. You may also hear this referred to as being “restricted by 19AB”.

Medicare is a health insurance scheme which allows Australians to access a wide range of healthcare services at reduced or no cost. All of the services covered by Medicare are listed in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), which details the cost that the government is prepared to pay for a particular medical service.

To claim the fee from Medicare for a particular service, a doctor needs to have an appropriate Medicare provider number. Each provider number (PN) is limited to a specific, defined location, so if you wish to claim for a service provided in multiple locations you would need multiple PNs.

In order to obtain a PN, IMGs need to satisfy Section 19AB of Australia’s Health Insurance Act 1973, hence IMGs are referred to as being “restricted by 19AB”.

How do doctors satisfy Section 19AB?

For 10 years following the date that a doctor is first registered in Australia, doctors will need to work in an area that is deemed a District of Workforce Shortage (DWS). General Practitioners need to work in an area that is deemed to be a Distribution Priority Area (DPA). You can read more about 19AB in our article here.

Some medical specialties have been given a class exemption as they are deemed to be in shortage across the whole country. Specialists such as dermatologists or pain medicine specialists can work anywhere in Australia. Find more detail about medicare billing restrictions and class exemptions here.

Some medical specialties including general practice can use the government locator tool to determine which areas are considered DWS/DPA.

All other medical specialties can email the 19AB department to find out about working in a particular location for their field.

How do doctors apply for Medicare as a Doctor in Australia?

Once doctors have appropriate registration with AHPRA, an application can be made to Medicare for a PN. The registration process varies depending on medical specialty. Doctors may be able to start the process prior to finding a job or may need a confirmed position first. It may take 6-12 months from the start of the process to being able to begin working. Our team here at Wavelength are focused on guiding doctors through the process along with our experienced in-house Regulatory team.

What happens after I have been registered for 10 years?

Once a doctor has held registration for 10 years, the moratorium is completed. However, to become unrestricted, doctors need to have also obtained Fellowship with the relevant specialist college (typically takes 2 years) and have Australian permanent residency or citizenship (typically takes 3-4 years). Once doctors are unrestricted, there is no longer a requirement to work in a DWS/DPA location to access Medicare Benefits.

Do Doctors need Medicare?

Practising medicine in the public system allows doctors to work anywhere in Australia, as these restrictions are only related to private billings. However, some public hospitals will still require doctors to have a PN to enable treatment of privately insured patients within the public system. Doctors will need to discuss these details with prospective healthcare employers.

Benefit from our experience helping IMGs find work in Australia

Wavelength medical recruitment consultants are experienced in guiding IMGs through the process and advising on where doctors can and can’t work.

Doctors who have found a position themselves can still seek the assistance of our in-house regulatory and migration department for guidance regarding Medicare applications. Please contact us if you require assistance with your Provider Number applications.

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