Supporting a sustainable workforce
As one of the largest specialist medical colleges in Australia and New Zealand, we're committed to training, developing and supporting the workforce required to fulfil our purpose of serving our communities by leading high quality care in anaesthesia, perioperative and pain medicine, optimising health and reducing the burden of pain.
Anaesthesia and pain medicine workforce
Australia and New Zealand’s anaesthesia and pain medicine workforce comprises more than 7100 highly skilled professionals working in a variety of private and public settings. An analysis of this workforce highlighted a number of characteristics and trends that have influenced college workforce priorities, such as:
- A marked under-representation of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori fellows and trainees.
- A geographic maldistribution of the workforce with around 84 per cent of anaesthetists and 90 per cent of specialist pain medicine physicians working in major cities in Australia, and 90 per cent of anaesthetists and 91 per cent of specialist pain medicine physicians working in urban or secondary urban areas in New Zealand.
- A high number of specialist pain medicine physicians (nearly 50 per cent) approaching retirement age.
Policy and reform context
The anaesthesia and pain medicine workforce is affected by developments and policy changes in the health system as well as broader social and economic dynamics driving health workforce reforms. Policy and document analysis reveals a wide range of health system and broader factors impacting workforce and the way health services are being delivered, such as:
- A growing and ageing population.
- Demand for healthcare services increasing at a rate significantly in excess of both population and gross domestic product growth.
- Changing community expectations about where and how health services are delivered.
- Technological advances and innovations.
- Resource constraint which has impacted health system funding, particularly in infrastructure and staffing.
- Increasingly complex patients with multiple comorbidities.
- The poorer health outcomes of Indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand.
National Medical Workforce Strategy
In 2019 the Australian government Department of Health announced that it was developing a 10-year National Medical Workforce Strategy to guide long-term medical workforce planning. The strategy was largely developed during 2019-2020, with the college providing input into its development with representation at consultation forums, participation in face-to-face meetings and teleconferences with the department and submissions on the draft strategy. Following some delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Medical Workforce Strategy 2021-2031 was released by the Australian Government Department of Health in January 2022.
The strategy details 25 overarching actions to deliver on its vision to “work together, using data and evidence, to ensure that the medical workforce sustainably meets the changing health needs of Australian communities”. Five complementary priority areas guide these actions:
- Collaborating on planning and design.
- Rebalance supply and distribution.
- Reform the training pathways.
- Build the generalist capability of the medical workforce.
- Build a flexible and responsive medical workforce.
Of these, priority area 2 (rebalance supply and distribution), is a particular focus for our college. Actions under this priority include:
- Increasing the number of trainees in undersubscribed specialties and decreasing the number of trainees and oversubscribed specialties.
- Growing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce.
- Reducing barriers and improving incentives for doctors to work and train in rural and remote communities.
The college will continue to work with the Department, other specialist medical colleges, Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges and other stakeholders to progress these actions which align with those of our Indigenous Health Strategy, Reconciliation Action Plan and Regional and Rural Workforce Strategy.
Regional and rural workforce
Australian and New Zealanders living in regional rural and remote communities have poorer health outcomes across a range of measures compared with those living in metropolitan areas. The reasons for this are multi-factorial and complex, however timely access to safe and high quality health services are a significant determinant.
In 2019, 85 per cent of anaesthetists and 88 per cent of specialist pain medicine physicians were located in major cities (compared with around 72 per cent of the population living in major cities). In Aotearoa New Zealand, 90 per cent of anaesthetists and 91 per cent of specialist pain medicine physicians work in urban or secondary urban areas based on 2015 and 2016 workforce survey data provided to ANZCA by the Medical Council of New Zealand/ Te Kaunihera Rata o Aotearoa
In 2021, we released our regional and rural workforce strategy which outlines six key priority areas to guide our activities and initiatives to:
- Address the geographic maldistribution of anaesthetists and specialist pain medicine physicians to improve health outcomes for Australian and New Zealand communities in regional and rural areas.
- Develop a valued, skilled and healthy anaesthesia and pain medicine workforce in regional and rural Australia and New Zealand, practising within a supportive environment and culture, focused on delivering safe and high quality patient care.
Specialist Training Program
This Australian government initiative aims to extend vocational training for specialist registrars into settings outside traditional metropolitan teaching hospitals, including regional, rural and remote, and private facilities.
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Growing the Indigenous workforce
Helping more Indigenous doctors to train as anaesthetists and pain specialists is one of the key ways we can address wider inequities. This doesn't just mean recruiting, retaining, and supporting Indigenous health practitioners, but also helping to create culturally safe and responsive workplaces.
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