Begin with the end in sight: Pathways in Australian General Practice
Writing this blog was a hard slog. Navigating through the intricacies of working in Australian General Practice must be one of the most confusing and disorientating journeys I’ve ever been on – and I have been trained and work in Australian General Practice! I cannot imagine how a Doctor who is less familiar with the environment would find their way without some guidance – so I hope in writing this blog as an expert I can make your journey to working independently as a GP in Australia a little smoother.
Before we get too much into the detail. Let’s answer the key question here. How can overseas trained doctors (International Medical Graduates) work in General Practice in Australia? The short explanation is that you firstly need to be assessed for and given registration to work in a general practice position. You be on an Approved Registration Pathway with the Medical Board of Australia which includes at a minimum, completion of the AMC Part 1 (written) exam and meeting English language proficiency requirements. Completion of the AMC Part 2 (clinical) examination and other requirements will allow for General Registration but is not necessary to start work. You also need a job offer with appropriate supervision. At this point there are various options under what is called the 3GA Programs to work in a post in general practice where you can offer Medicare services.
The road to GP Fellowship can be long and tortuous and requires considerable personal and academic commitment – so before you set off, plan your route to ensure a straight trajectory. Many of the doctors that I work with in preparation for (and/or repeatedly attempting) Fellowship exams started their ‘trip to Fellowship’ late, or stumbled along the path, repeatedly finding hazards, including AHPRA Registration hurdles.
Working independently in General Practice should be enjoyable and challenging and needn’t be tortuous.
Some Initial Questions to Ask Yourself
Before you embark on your journey into General Practice in Australia ask yourself the following questions:
- Where do you wish to be working in five years? e. what type of medicine would you like to practice and what skillsets will you need?
- Are you subject to 19AA or 19AB legislation? Otherwise known as Vocational Registration and the Moratorium
- Are you here on a Visa or are you a permanent resident?
- Do you want to work in an urban or rural area?
- Can you afford to self-fund your General Practice training?
- Are you working under any AHPRA registration restrictions?
- Can you afford to work under A1 or A2 rebates?
If you’re not sure what these questions are asking about then this blog is definitely for you and you should read on.
There are two key concepts that need to be considered – working in General Practice. The second is the training and assessment required to be undertaken in order to achieve a GP Fellowship (and therefore Specialist Registration).
If you intend to stay both living and working in Australian in General Practice in the long term, then you need both a job as well as a Fellowship.
Working in General Practice
To work in Australian General Practice, you should be eligible to access Medicare for your patients.
An explanation of Medicare deserves its own blog post. But for now the basic thing you need to understand is that in Australia there is a system of universal health insurance which funds by far the majority of health services in Australia, this includes both community provided services as well as hospital services. All Australian citizens and permanent residents are covered under this scheme. In addition, a number of other people living in Australia whose governments have reciprocal arrangements with Australia are also covered under Medicare.
The Australian Government provides funding for services by way of rebating items which doctors are able to charge for. These are called Medicare items. If you are not able to charge for Medicare in General Practice you are at a serious disadvantage as most patients will not be able to afford to see you or will choose to go see a GP who can access Medicare. There are two levels of rebates available A1 which entitles the patient to 100% of the rebate, and A2 where the patient can only claim 80% of the Medicare rebate.
Medicare Provider Numbers
To access Medicare, you need a Medicare Provider Number. A Provider Number is required for each place of practice and profession your practice in. Provider numbers are available by filling in a form, or through Provider Digital Access/PRODA. Doctors in Australia are not automatically eligible for a provider number.
You are eligible for a Provider Number if:
- You are a recognised specialist, consultant physician or General Practitioner;
- You are in an approved placement under 3GA (see below) of the Health Insurance Act 1973
- You are a temporary resident doctors with an exemption under section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act 1973 and working in accord with that exemption.
Why Do You Need a Provider Number?
A bit of background is required in order to answer this question. In 1996, Section 19AA of the Health Insurance Act was introduced to recognise GP as a vocational speciality in its own right (i.e. requiring Vocational Registration (VR)). Prior to this, any doctor with General Registration could set up shop as a GP and charge for General Practice items under Medicare. After 1996, a system of Vocational Registration was introduced, whereby doctors now need to demonstrate (generally through gaining a Fellowship) that they are qualified to work as a GP.
Doctor’s subject to Section 19AA are:
- Those doctors who attained Australian Medical Board registration on or after 1/11/96; and
- Permanent residents; and
- Those that do not hold continued recognition (‘grandfathered vocational registration’ (VR) with the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP) or Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM)).
You gain continued recognition with the RACGP or ACRRM by either completing their Fellowship requirements or having been “grandfathered” into vocational registration. So basically, whilst there are some doctors who can gain an exception to 19AA or Vocational Registration. These doctors are slowly dwindling in number over the years. For more information, see this Fact Sheet.
What Happens If You Are Not Vocationally Registered?
To enable access to a Provider Number and ensure your patients receive 100% of the Medicare rebate, working within a 3GA program is essential. You also have to take into account any 19AB requirements (which may restrict you to working in certain areas of workforce shortage). You can change from one 3GA program to another, but you cannot be on programs simultaneously.
These are multiple 3GA programs. So, it can be quite confusing which one to apply for and which one is best. The General Practice Fellowship Program Placement Guidelines outlines the criteria under which Provider Numbers can be issued for the various programs.
IMG doctors who have completed their AMC Part 1 and satisfy the AHPRA English requirements are able to apply for some of the 3GA programs listed below, so long as they have an offer of employment and suitable supervisory arrangements.
However, in my experience it can be challenging to go through both the AMC process and work in general practice. It may be better to focus on getting yourself up to general registration first, obtaining permanent residency and then commencing general practice training via the main 3GA program the Australian General Practice Training Program.
Let’s start with the main one.
The Australian General Practice Training Program (AGPT)
The Australian General Practice Training Program is a key 3GA program and the main pathway for doctors trained in Australia to enter into training in general practice and charge for Medicare items whilst undertaking their training.
It is also a pathway for any IMG who may obtain General Registration through the Standard Pathway process by completing the requirements for the AMC Certificate and a year of supervised practice. Permanent residency is an eligibility criterion.
Under the Australian General Practice Training Program:
- You can train towards Fellowship with RACGP or ACRRM
- You can apply for either General and Rural streams. For most IMG doctors you will have to apply for the Rural Stream as you will be restricted to work in areas of District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) due to your Section 19AB requirement.
- Applications open in April each year – training year commences in January
- There is a Selection process
- And Eligibility Criteria
The AGPT is Commonwealth Government funded and includes comprehensive in-practice supervision and training, and external education supports including resources, workshops and Medical Educator support.
The costs for undertaking the program are nil to low.
There are 1350 places for AGPT under the RACGP and 150 places under the ACRRM each year, both programs having annual application cycles.
The RACGP Practice Experience Program (PEP)
The RACGP Practice Experience Program (PEP) – Standard Stream: is a self-directed education program designed to support non-vocationally registered (non-VR) doctors on their journey to RACGP Fellowship. The program is currently a 12 – 18-month program with quarterly intakes. The PEP includes education resources and Medical Educator feedback and support. In 2020, a selection test was introduced called the PEP Entrance Assessment (PEPEA). Whilst on the Practice Experience Program, any prior successful exam passes are ‘frozen’ which can be advantageous for doctors having difficulty passing one particular component of assessment.
The program costs the applicant $2,000 per 6 months as there is some Commonwealth funding support. The final application period for the Commonwealth-funded PEP is January 2022.
See here for the Eligibility criteria for this program.
There is also a PEP – Specialist Stream for Doctors who are deemed to have a partially or substantially comparable qualification in General Practice gained outside of Australia.
RACGP also has a General Practice Experience Pathway, on which the PEP sits, but the pathway itself does not allow access to a Provider Number for A1 rebates. From January 2022 it will be compulsory that all RACGP exam candidates either are enrolled in the AGPT program or have completed the PEP.
ACRRM Independent Pathway
The ACRRM Independent Pathway is similar in nature to the AGPT program in both application and structure. However, there is more flexibility in location and no streaming in the program. The program is designed to address areas of workforce shortage by supporting applicants in such positions. There are prior experience requirements and you need to self-fund your participation (approximately $30,000 in total).
It is possible to do a procedural/advanced skill component as part of the program.
Here are the Eligibility criteria for the program.
ACRRM Non-Vocationally Registered Support Program
The ACRRM Non-Vocationally Registered Support Program is similar to the ACRRM Independent Pathway. With the main difference being that there is up to $15,000 Commonwealth support provided.
Remote Vocational Training Scheme (RVTS)
Under the Remote Vocational Training Scheme (RVTS): doctors can train towards FRACGP or FACRRM. You must be working in a rural area or Aboriginal Medical Service. The scheme requires a minimum of 2 years GP experience in the practice you are working in. This is a well-structured and funded program with remote supervision and external Medical Educator support and resources.
See here for the Eligibility criteria.
The RVTS also delivers the PEP with the oversight of the RACGP.
More Doctors for Rural Australia (MDRAP)
- The MDRAP enables access to Medicare before you transition to a college program. The program provides education resources and supervision for doctors working in rural areas (MMM2-7) in a Distribution Priority Area (DPA) or an Aboriginal Medical Service.
After Hours Medical Deputising (AMDS) Programs
Under the After Hours Medical Deputising (AMDS) Programs you are able to train towards RACGP or ACRRM Fellowships. You can work in both metropolitan and regional areas, in clinics or home visits.
All work is after-hours: 6 pm – 8am weekdays, Saturday after 12, Sunday and public holidays.
An interesting component of this program is that higher billing rates are possible in some after-hours segments.
However, your experience under this program is assessed at 50% of the actual time worked as afterhours deputising is not considered comprehensive and holistic general practice and is capped at 2.5 years.
Your limited scope of practice can also make it more difficult to contextually apply knowledge for Fellowship exams
There are a range of other programs available (e.g. Special Approved Placement Program, Rural Locum Relief Program), however, the Commonwealth Government has closed these to new applicants. Doctors currently on 3GA programs other than the AGPT, PEP, ACRRM-IP and MDRAP must transfer to one of these programs by 30 June 2023.
What is a District of Workforce Shortage?
Section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act requires Overseas Trained Doctors (OTDs) and Foreign Graduates of Accredited Medical Schools (FGAMS) to practice in an area of District Workforce Shortage (DWS) for ten years after their first Australian Medical Board Registration. From 1 July 2019, the Australian Government replaced the DWS classification with the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification. If you want to visualise this concept you can pop over to the highly helpful Doctor Connect website. Exemptions are available in same cases to this requirement. For more information, see this Fact Sheet.
Training in General Practice
Vocational registration is attained with Fellowship of the RACGP or ACRRM. There are significant differences in these programs so it’s worth investigating both options before you decide which one is best for you. Currently some training programs have 3GA status, whilst some do not. The RACGP has a guide for IMGs who wish to work in Australian GP, as do ACRRM as part of their Specialist Pathway.
Phasing Out of 3GA Programs
The Commonwealth has indicated that by 30 June 2023 many of the existing 3GA programs will be phased out. Doctors must attain Fellowship or join a college-led Fellowship Program to maintain A1 rebates.
Let’s make an itinerary
Your route may seem complex. The following diagram is aimed to assist you in reviewing all the options available to you.
The options have been simplified to provide guidance so please revise all eligibility criteria prior to planning your approach. View a pdf of the flowchart here.
Vocational Registration is given to work in General Practice when you have attained a Fellowship with the RACGP or ACRRM.
The assessment and Fellowship for the two colleges differ considerably (see table below). ACRRM Fellowship also requires completion of an Advanced Skill (e.g. Anaesthetics, Obstetrics). Advanced Skills can also be completed as part of a Fellowship of Advanced Rural General Practice (FARGP) with the RACGP.
|RACGP Assessments||ACRRM Assessments|
Once you have decided that GP is the career for you, it is not only critical to ensure you are on the right pathway, but to map out when you might complete the Fellowship assessments. Many of the doctors that I work with underestimate the degree of difficulty of the assessments. Some sit the exams without adequate preparation as either they ‘will just give it a go to see what it’s like’ or they are pressured to sit due to other factors including AHPRA Registration requirements. Some doctors are concurrently trying to complete AMC 2 clinical examinations and Fellowship Assessments. It is best to concentrate on one or the other, or both will risk a poor outcome.
An unsuccessful exam attempt usually impacts upon personal and professional confidence and makes a huge hole in your hip pocket. RACGP has recently introduced a capping on exam attempts and ACRRM has a strict policy regarding multiple attempts so it is better to plan for success in the first instance.
Here’s an example:
Dr X is an IMG who works in a small rural town. He has gained permanent residency, and is therefore subject to Section 19AA of the Health Act, and is an IMG so also subject to Section 19AB. He has a Provider Number through the Rural Locum Relief Program and was enrolled to sit Fellowship exams which he has attempted multiple times, but due to personal circumstances had to withdraw at the last minute. In the meantime, his AHPRA Registration requires renewal, including evidence of progression towards Fellowship, which due to exam withdrawal is now problematic. He is currently not eligible to enrol for the next exam cycle due to a likely lapsed Medical Board Registration, which is required for enrolment. He is however eligible to apply for the AGPT program (Rural stream), PEP and the ACRRM independent programs, and will receive training and a Provider Number.
This is a common example of the complexities of the system and the need to ensure that you have a good understanding of all the factors for both working and training in General Practice.
Do I need a Trip Advisor?
If you’re deciding on what journey to take in medicine, Dr Anthony Llewellyn is an experienced health public sector executive, medical educationalist and coach. Contact him at AdvanceMed or book a coaching session to discuss your options.
If you’ve already headed a little way down the Fellowship path (any speciality) and are feeling a bit lost, then a chat with Dr Ashe Coxon at Medical Career Planning might help. Dr Coxon is a GP, Medical Educator and Medical Career Consultant.
If trudging down the GP Fellowship road, then Medical Education Experts is here to support your journey with individualised coaching and learning resources. We have a MAP, a GPS System and a Compass that will keep you on track when planning your study for exams, in addition to other useful courses and resources for learning in Australian General Practice.
It’s more fun to travel in a group. Find some colleagues to enjoy the ride with, and if you’re feeling a bit lost and confused, ask for some professional advice.
- 19AA and the 3GA Programs
- Doctor Connect: DWS locator
- Doctor Connect: Working as a GP
- Medicare benefits for health professionals, intern, registrar and trainee eligibility requirements.
- PESCI Information for IMGs
- RACGP Practice Experience Pathway
- Section 3GA programs
- Stronger Rural Health Strategy– Streamlining General Practice Training
- Training – improved access to Australian trained general practitioners
Question: What is General Practice?
Answer: In Australia General Practice is considered to be its own medical specialty. In other countries this specialty might be referred to as either family medicine or primary care medicine.
According to the RACGP in Australia, a GP:
- is most likely the first point of contact in matters of personal health;
- coordinates the care of patients and refers patients to other specialists;
- cares for patients in a whole of person approach and in the context of their work, family and community;
- cares for patients of all ages, both sexes, children and adults across all disease categories;
- cares for patients over a period of their lifetime;
- provides advice and education on health care
- performs legal processes such as certification of documents or provision of reports in relation to motor transport or work accidents.
Question: Can I Be On More Than One 3GA Program At a Time?
Answer: No. You can change from one 3GA program to another but your cannot be on programs simultaneously.
Question: What Happens After I Complete 10 Years In a District of Workforce Shortage/DPA?
Answer: Basically, you are now free to work anywhere you chose in Australia. It’s likely by this point that you will also have been able to apply for permanent residency and even citizenship. So, you will essentially be the same as every Australian born and trained GP.