27 Jan 2016

NZ's doctors getting older - survey

5:52 am on 27 January 2016

The number of doctors in New Zealand is increasing, according to the Medical Council of New Zealand's annual stocktake - and so is their average age.

There are also more women and more Māori working in the profession, although representation of the latter is still lagging compared to the size of the country's Māori and Pasifika populations.

 Doctor with a stethoscope writing on a clipboard.

The Medical Workforce Survey Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Medical Workforce Survey for 2013 and 2014 showed the number of "active doctors" had increased by 2.7 percent to 15,336 in 2014.

The council said the number of doctors had increased by almost 56 percent between 2001 and 2014, at a time when the population had increased by 16 percent.

That's 340 doctors for every 100,000 people.

Doctors were becoming older - with an average age of 46, and the largest group of doctors aged between 50 and 54.

Women made up 42 percent of the medical workforce and were more likely to be under age 40 compared with male doctors.

Although male doctors had historically out-numbered female doctors, and still made up 58 percent of the medical workforce, the survey showed this gap was decreasing.

Females now out-numbered males amongst new doctors, with 58 percent of house officers and half of registrars female.

The average age was highest in occupational medicine, followed by dermatology and palliative care.

Across all active doctors, the average number of hours worked was 43.7 a week in 2013 and 43.6 in 2014. GPs were among those with the lowest average hours, at 36.8.

Doctors working in rural areas were older than those in urban areas, on average, and a higher proportion of international medical graduates (IMGs) worked in rural areas.

The overall proportion of IMGs in the workforce was up slightly on the past several years. IMGs who spent the shortest amount of time in New Zealand tended to come from the US and the UK.

Māori representation 'likely to change'

The proportion of doctors who identified themselves as Māori had increased to 3.2 percent after falling to 2.7 percent in 2013, and the proportion of Pasifika doctors had increased to 2 percent after rising to 1.8 percent in 2013.

The survey said: "Both Māori and Pasifika doctors continue to be noticeably under-represented compared to their proportion of the population.

"Chinese doctors are represented about the same in the medical workforce as they are within the New Zealand population, and Indian doctors are more highly represented in the medical workforce compared with the New Zealand population."

The survey found Māori were better represented at house officer and registrar level.

"This suggests that although they are currently under-represented amongst specialists (2 percent), this is likely to change in the future as those house officers and registrars advance into more senior positions within the workforce."

Medical Council chairman Andrew Connolly said the survey results were pleasing.

"I think the gender issue and the increase in numbers of Māori and Pacific doctors, we should be celebrating those things. I think it's good news in this survey and a very good response.

"It's roughly 83 percent of doctors responded, which we're pretty pleased about."

Otago University's pro vice-chancellor of health sciences and medical school dean, Peter Crampton, said it had worked hard to have medical student classes reflect the proportion of Māori in society.

That had worked, Prof Crampton said - with Māori making up 17 percent of the intake this year and last year for the first time.

It was a huge change made possible by an affirmative entry pathway but no lowering of standards, he said.

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