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Future Demand for Ophthalmologists Could Lead to Shortage

mivision | 1 September 2009

The demand for medical specialists, including ophthalmologists, is set to outstrip supply over the next 20 years as Australia's population ages, according to a report issued by NAB Health.

The research, undertaken by Access Economics on behalf of the company, found that an additional 13,400 specialists will be needed over the next decade to meet demand.

"This is impacted by an increasing number of specialists approaching retirement; according to the report, 5,000 specialists are projected to retire in the decade to 2016. Furthermore the ageing population continues to place increasing pressure on these specialist disciplines. People aged over 85 years visit a specialist three and a half times more often than those aged 25 to 54," the report states.

The report, entitled ‘The changing face of the healthcare industry', was based on research undertaken in December 2008 on the medical specialist industry in Australia and looked at the challenges, opportunities and trends for six types of medical specialists - Ophthalmologists, radiologists, cardiologists, anaesthetists, gastroenterologists and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists.

"As the Australian population ages, a key challenge for the medical specialist industry in the coming decades will be the increasing demand for specialist advice," said General Manager of NAB Health, Matina Karvounaris.

"Although the number of graduates choosing to specialise is expected to increase, the number of specialists available will only meet a small portion of the growing demand for their services," she added.

The report suggested that for the 5,000 specialists expected to retire in the next six years, optimising the succession and sale of their practice would be a key consideration as they plan for the next phase of their life.

The report points out that the medical specialists industry contributes just under AUD$6 billion to the Australian economy and this figure is expected to grow substantially in the next 30 years as Australia's population ages and there is more demand for specialist medical advice.

This report shows that new trends facing medical specialist professions are having a significant effect on the shape of these fields:

  • Training opportunities for specialists are reducing, while at the same time, demand for specialists is increasing.
  • Women are increasingly becoming medical specialists, which is re-shaping many medical specialist professions.
  • New technologies are increasing specialists' ability to provide outstanding medical care, but at the same time the cost of proving specialist medical services is increasing. These trends are putting pressure on both the private and public medical spheres.


Income

According to Access Economics' data, medical specialists receive real income growth of 1.75 percent annually.


Hours

Access Economics reports that between 2001 and 2005, specialists' average hours fell from 47 to 46 per week.


Training

Education for medical specialists is a long process consisting of a university qualification as well as practical training. The practical training begins in the hospital system where a typical residency is two or three years. After this, a graduate is a qualified doctor eligible to practice within the hospital system. Most will elect to continue their training in a specialty, either as a GP or in another field. The past six years has seen a steady increase in the number of medical students finishing initial training and then choosing to specialise. The largest growth has been in anaesthetics, surgery (including cardiology and ENT) and radiology.


Migrant specialists

There has been a marked increased in the number of migrant medical specialists, with Access Economics' figures showing the number of medical specialists entering the country jumping from 73 in the 2002-2003 financial year to the 390 in the 2006-2007 financial year.


Male Ophthalmologists

There were 636 male ophthalmologists practicing in Australia in 1995; 560 in 2008, with 581 full-time equivalents; in 2038, total number of male ophthalmologists is expected to only increase by approximately 20 per cent to 655 or 672 full-time equivalents.


Female Ophthalmologists

There were 71 female ophthalmologists practicing in Australia in 1995; 108 in 2008, with full-time equivalent numbers equalling 88; in 2038, the total number of female ophthalmologists is expected to almost treble to 311 or 253 full-time equivalents.