The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research study surveyed 532 junior doctors before they chose a specialty training program. They found that 16% more junior doctors would chose to be GPs if they had an increase in procedural work – for example, obstetrics – while an extra 12% more would choose to be GPs if they received up to a third more in future earnings, approximately $50,000.
However the study also found that doctors would be prepared to sacrifice a substantial amount of their future annual income – in some cases up to 25% based on an annual income of $200,000 – for improvements in control over working hours and opportunities to do procedural work.
The study is part of the MABEL (Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life) longitudinal survey of doctors funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Lead researcher Professor Tony Scott said the results had policy implications when it came to addressing the shortage of GPs in Australia.
“The findings illustrate the importance of future expected earnings in determining a specialty choice. It’s clear the doctors’ estimated valuation of their future desired wages is much higher than current wages for GPs and are much closer to the actual wages of specialists,” he said.
“Addressing the gap between GPs and specialists’ earnings would be an effective solution, and could be done either through a rise in the existing fee-for-service payments to GPs or introducing pay-for-performance schemes on top of the existing payments.”
“More than this however, we found that increasing procedural work or academic opportunities for GPs could have a similar effect as increasing earnings by $50,000, and increase the number of doctors choosing to train as GPs by between 212 and 376 doctors a year.
“The reality is that many GPs have ceased traditional areas of procedural practice and that sits uncomfortably with young doctors.
Professor Scott said strategies to better support procedural activities – such as changed medical indemnity insurance arrangements – could enhance the attractiveness of general practice.
“Somewhat ironically, Australian GPs in rural areas often undertake more procedural work than their metropolitan colleagues, and this feature could be used to enhance recruitment into these regions, which have long suffered from workforce shortages,” he said.
Prof Tony Scott
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