Newly Qualified GPs Moving to Australia
You have just qualified or are about to qualify as a GP after many years of training, exams and plenty of hard work, now you’re wondering what’s next for you? Being a GP in Australia, is that really a viable option?
There are multiple options open to you including finding a salaried post or starting as a locum but one you might want to consider is working overseas. It can be a great experience to practice medicine in a different part of the world, do some travelling and see where your hard work can take you!
One of the most attractive places to work as a GP is Australia, where the work life balance is exceptional, the work diverse, superb medical equipment and outstanding income on offer.
Below we look at some of the key considerations when finding a new role in Australia but our team would be happy to discuss any of your queries about the move.
Obtaining a licence to practice as a GP has often been seen as a lengthy, complex process, however, newly qualified GPs who have completed their training in the UK are regarded highly by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
As the comparability of a UK trained GP is very similar to Australian counterparts, the processing times for recently qualified GPs is very quick. It is also virtually guaranteed that approval will be given and Prospect Health have not had anyone fail to get their medical licence.
We can offer you support from start to finish and the timeframes are typically 6 – 9 months.
Visas for working in Australia as a Newly Qualified GP
GPs are still considered in need and applications for Visas are relatively straight forward and approved once a job offer has been secured and a licence to practice granted. Visas are usually granted for a period of 2 years initially which are renewable. If you decide you want to stay in Australia for longer, then the vast majority of employers offer employer sponsored residency visas allowing you to stay in the country indefinitely. These Visas are also transferrable should you decide to move location or change jobs in the future.
Permanent Residency is achievable for the vast majority of GPs as the points system to apply is achievable for most. Some people believe that they should apply for that in advance of working in Australia but the reality is it becomes easier to achieve having a proven level of income in Australia. Furthermore, being supported by an employer often makes the process much quicker and cheaper than doing it independently from the UK.
Practicing medicine in Australia
There are a number of similarities but also some key differences in practicing medicine in Australia. The systems are slightly different and codes will be unfamiliar at first but general feedback from the many doctors placed is that after a period of 4 – 6 weeks adjusting to these differences, the majority of the work becomes familiar. One key positive often highlighted is the significant reduction in administration time required! The systems are highly sophisticated and admin time is done during consultation time, a concept many struggle to believe until they are working in Australia.
The majority of practices / medical centres do not work to strict consultation times. Rather than having fixed 10 minute consults it is more fluid than that and the focus is on practicing great medicine and giving the patient the time required. This approach requires good diary management to limit wait times but someone who needs an extended consultation can often be booked back in for a second thorough consultation during non-peak hours. Equally, long term patients with conditions that require extended consults are usually booked during quieter hours.
The average consultation time for one of our larger clients is 14.5 minutes.
Australia’s Healthcare funding model is slightly different to that of the UK and whilst patients have free at the point of care access to a GP, they also have a much larger pool of the population with private healthcare. This ensures that services are well funded and practices are able to invest heavily in their equipment and buildings, offering great working environments.
Many practices are able to offer on-site MRI scanners which reduces patient wait times and the pressures on hospital referrals. Patients benefit from much faster diagnosis therefore quicker access to treatment.
Pathology is largely privatised and a large proportion of practices have pathology on site or access to local pathology labs which can give blood result turnaround time on the same day, often within a couple of hours!
As a GP you will be able to get these results quickly and work with the patient on managing and treating conditions ultra-fast!
There are numerous courses that are widely available for GPs wishing to enhance their skills or specialise in certain areas. In doing so it gives GPs the ability to provide additional services to patients and often come with higher payments to increase the income for the GP (whilst not necessarily impacting the cost to the patient.
The obvious one people think about is Dermatology but there are a number of other areas that offer chances to develop such as Mental Health, Occupational Health, IVF, Family Planning, Addiction Support and many others that can enhance your skill set.
How much income you could make as a GP in Australia
One key difference in working as a GP in Australia is the income structure. GPs working in medical centres are very rarely considered employees, in fact we have never placed someone into an employed position as there are significant tax implications and it also offers significantly lower income than working as an independent contractor.
GPs usually work as Independent contractors, similar to that of a locum here in the UK except they generally contract themselves to 1 or 2 organisations.
Income for the independent contractor is based on the billing they generate for the Medical Centre. Billing can either come through Medicare or private insurance. Medicare is government funded via a Medicare levy on income, this is often referred to as Bulk Billing and is free for the patient.
A GP would receive a percentage of billing rather than a salary and the percentage is usually between 60% and 75% depending on factors including location, patient numbers and scope of practice. It is important when considering your options to not focus solely on the percentage, a common mistake people make! You need to factor in and find out the patient numbers to give you a realistic income expectation, after all 75% sounds great but with no patients there is no income!
Working as a GP in Australia is highly lucrative. Whilst there is a short period of adjustment and some key areas to understand such as item numbers for the billing system, it doesn’t take long to earn high numbers. Working 40 hours per week (and we mean 40 hours not extensive overtime) it is realistic to be earning around $10,000 per week with many doctors earning in excess of $15,000 per week once they are up to speed. Depending on exchange rates that usually equates to around £5,000 – £6,000 per week! Take 5 weeks holiday and that is at least £235K per year based on $10K dollar income each week.
It doesn’t matter if you are newly qualified or 10 years qualified, the same figures are on offer and many medical centres like to take recently qualified GPs as they find the adjustment to working in the Australian system to be very quick.
Tax as a GP in Australia explained
Whilst we are not qualified accountants and can’t offer specific financial advice, we can offer some guidance on what you can expect to pay in tax and some examples that might help.
GPs working in Australia are required to file tax returns. As you are classed as an Independent Contractor you are likely to work with an accountant to ensure you pay the right amount of tax.
It is important to seek out an accountant with knowledge of your industry so you can ensure any deducible costs are accounted for and reducing your tax liability. Things like equipment for work, transportation and accounting costs can be included in many cases and typically you would expect to pay somewhere between 28% and 35% in tax.
The tax year in Australia runs from July – June and one of the best pieces of advice is to ask fellow doctors in your medical centre who they use for their tax returns and how they rate them. Local knowledge can be key in finding the best person for you. Don’t always look for the cheapest as you could end up paying significantly higher tax rates!
Lifestyle in Australia as a Newly Qualified GP
Australia is ranked as the 6th best country in the world for quality of life (2021) and offers year round sunshine complimenting an outdoors lifestyle that we only get for a few months of the year here in the UK!
It seems obvious to discuss the weather but it is such an important factor in day to day life down under. It is far more predictable so if you want to arrange a BBQ in a couple of months, chances of a washout are slim! A weekend away camping won’t end in freezing temperatures and that fitness regime you plan doesn’t end at the first sign of snow.
The outdoors lifestyle is a true part of Australian culture and they invest heavily in it with things such as dedicated cycle lanes across the country that are the width of our roads, community BBQs by the beach that are carefully looked after and thousands of outdoor eateries to catch up with friends.
Within the country itself there are areas of outstanding natural beauty, numerous beaches and tonnes to do on weekends, evenings or during holiday periods. Internal flights are relatively cheap so you can travel to different parts of Australia to discover the diversity across the country.
Cost of Living for GPs in Australia
Like all countries there are areas that are expensive and areas where things are cheaper. In general the cost of living is slightly more expensive for things such as eating out, groceries and accommodation. However, it is a marginal difference that is negated with the significant increase in average earnings and many GPs report they have significantly higher disposable income. One GP who had practiced in the UK for 1 year before making the move said she managed to save the same in 1 year working in Australia that would have taken her 8 or 9 years to in the UK and she hadn’t cut back on anything!
Work Life Balance for Newly Qualified GPs in Australia
One of the biggest factors that keeps people in Australia is the work life balance. Those who have practiced in the UK and done 6 sessions plus understand that the extra workload on top of this means they are eating into their personal time week after week. However, because of how things operate and the systems they employ it is rare that a GP works more than 40 hours per week and many choose to fix between 24 and 40 hours. It’s worth highlighting again, these are fixed hours and it is extremely rare to do more than you’re contracted to unless you choose to.
That knowledge that you won’t be late home or have to come in during your spare time means you can plan to meet friends, pick the kids up from nursery and enjoy your time off with friends and family is what keeps people there.
Many people like the idea of working in Australia but don’t want to commit to more than a year, we can find positions that will allow you to work for a year and you can then decide if it’s for you or if you wish to come back to the UK. Many people who we placed 5 – 8 years ago had planned to be there for 6 – 12 months but are now there for life having realised the positive impact it has had on their lifestyle!
Vacancies in Australia
Prospect Health have vacancies across Australia. Whilst there are some restrictions on International Medical Graduates working in certain locations in Australia there are still tonnes of attractive places to live and work.
The Distribution Priority Area (DPA) status means that you can only work in medical centres that are granted this. What that means in practice is that the major cities are difficult to work in and they are looking to bring in GPs to hard to fill locations. However, recent changes have meant medical centres have been able to apply for DPA exemptions opening up more attractive locations close to city centres.
We have a number of vacancies within close proximity of major cities, glorious coastal towns as well as rural locations offering a completely different way of life.
The perception is that GPs can only practice in rural locations however this is not the case at all. We have roles 45 minutes from Sydney, 40 minutes from Brisbane, 45 minutes from Melbourne and within Canberra itself as examples.
If you can’t find a position that suits you please do get in contact as our team have a large network in Australia and can often help you find the right practice in the right location
Covid Impact to working as a GP in Australia
As the world gets used to living with Covid, there are still some key factors to consider. Australia has been considered to have managed Covid well during the first stages where borders were shut and infections kept to a minimum. With the realisation that borders cannot be shut forever there has been a gradual reopening. This has led to a surge in cases but they have done very well with the vaccination programme so death rates remain relatively low.
In terms of entering and leaving Australia, GPs with Visas are able to enter and leave the country now. There are still some state restrictions, particularly Western Australia where borders remain closed (even to those in other parts of Australia) but the expectation is that in the coming months travel will be permitted and they will start to open up more access for holiday travel so friends and family can visit. The reality is it is likely to take 6 – 9 months from qualifying to be registered to practice in Australia and as such we expect that border restrictions will be lifted.