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November 2019 | Published by RCPA

Issue #097

Severe labour shortage predicted within pathology profession

Severe labour shortage predicted within pathology profession

The most recent Pathology Workforce Study*, conducted on behalf of the RCPA, forecasts a severe labour shortage within the profession. The results of the study clearly indicate that the current and future demand for Australian Pathologists and Senior Scientists is higher than current supply levels, and that significant gaps are developing in the workforce. This analysis mirrors the findings from earlier studies undertaken in both Australia and New Zealand and Internationally. We spoke to Associate Professor Bruce Latham, President of the RCPA, to understand more.

“Pathology is the backbone of healthcare; therefore, it is essential that the high standards of the profession are maintained by ensuring that trained doctors are in the required roles. Unfortunately, the results of the most recent workforce study have confirmed our concerns that pathology is facing a severe shortage. This projection highlights the need to increase the numbers of new Trainees and Fellows in order to address the balance of the Australian Pathologist workforce supply and demand by 2030. This also accounts for the ageing workforce; which has significant implications with/for the retirement of a large proportion of pathologists in the next ten years,” said A/Prof Latham.

The RCPA consistently monitors the pathology workforce by discipline, in terms of the distribution by State and Territory; and also the senior scientist workforce, both within Australia and in New Zealand. Vacancy levels and reasons for vacancies are analysed and we are committed to gaining a greater understanding of the current market status, and future supply and demand.

Not only is pathology integral to the diagnosis of every cancer, it is the foundation for the clinical practice of medicine, paving the way to the appropriate diagnosis, management and treatment of diseases. For the recent Pathology Workforce study, modelling was undertaken for each discipline of Pathology as well as for Senior Scientists, in both Australia and New Zealand. Two growth drivers for the national Pathologist workforce were used and predicted a growth rate of between 3.4 and 3.8%.

The report has shown that there will likely be a continuing shortage of pathologists unless trainee numbers are increased. In Australia, to meet the projected service demand of the ageing population, and a growth rate of 3.8%, trainee commencements per annum needed to increase from 100 to 192 and new fellows to increase from 90 to 173 to balance supply and demand. In the base year of the workforce survey, there were a total of 1924 Fellows and an additional 574 Trainees over the 5-6 years of training.

New Zealand has a lower level of supply of Pathologists, at 61.4 per million population, compared to the national Australian supply of 78.4 per million population. This is lower than every State and Territory in Australia apart from the Northern Territory. The results of the projection modelling in New Zealand showed that there were an additional 14 -18 trainees needed for the total New Zealand Pathologist workforce.

“The RCPA is committed to the training and professional development of pathologists throughout Australasia. It is imperative that we increase the numbers of trainees and new fellows on an ongoing basis to meet increasing demand. We need to establish where additional trainees are most urgently needed, and whether the findings are consistent with local knowledge and labour market performance. The Commonwealth and State governments will be important stakeholders in the level of funding available for additional positions,” said A/Prof Latham.






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