The healthcare shortage in Australia and what you can do about it

A nurse reading a report.

Healthcare is one of Australia’s fastest-growing – and essential – industries. In 2016, the healthcare and social assistance sectors – covering professions such as doctor, nurse, dentist, physiotherapist, childcare worker and aged care worker – have experienced the nation’s largest jobs growth over the previous 15 years.

The sector employs more than 1.5 million people, which is roughly one in every eight Australian workers.

There are several reasons for this boost in numbers, including increased prosperity and government investment. Arguably the leading driver of this growth is an ageing population. As people live longer, they require more care over a longer period. Indeed, the government predicts that by 2050 some 3.5 million Australians will require aged care.

However, while this good news about growth means that more people are joining the healthcare workforce to meet the country’s needs, it doesn’t mean the picture of healthcare employment is all rosy.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem in distribution.

A regional shortage

A Department of Employment report published in 2017 highlighted occupations that have shortages of suitably skilled workers. It broke down the professions that are under-resourced. Plus, it looked at the types of locations where that shortfall in workers is most acute.

One of the key takeaways was how regional areas are particularly lacking in qualified healthcare workers. That’s despite the growing need for them across the country. It highlighted five key professions that were particularly lacking in such locations:

The large proportion of the healthcare industry covered by these professions suggests that there is some kind of shortage across much of the sector in regional areas, even beyond these highlighted jobs.

If something isn’t done to address this shortage, there could well be a crisis in regional healthcare.


Fortunately, the government is trying to remedy this situation. It recognises that attracting workers to regional areas is key to meeting the healthcare needs of regional communities, and ensuring that talent is not too concentrated in the major metropolitan areas.

That’s why there’s a distinct difference evident in the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program.

This government program can award jobseekers with financial assistance when they relocate in order to take up a professional position, if moving more than 90 minutes away from their current home.

You can see where the government places its emphasis in the relative amounts of assistance available for relocation to different areas. Payments can be up to:

  • $3000 if relocating to a capital city
  • $6000 if relocating to a regional area.

An education that meets the country’s needs

This shortage in regional areas leads to opportunities for suitably qualified healthcare workers to carve out a distinctive and rewarding career. Workers will have more choices about the roles they take on, and greater scope for securing good pay and conditions.

As Australia’s largest regional university, Charles Sturt University (CSU) is uniquely placed to help students make the most of opportunities in regional areas, and so help the country meet its healthcare needs.

Our degrees in allied health and pharmacy and medical and dental science not only give you access to hands-on learning experiences in our world-class facilities but you will also be able to get workplace experience in regional organisations.

Dr Heather Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy at CSU and Head of Campus for Orange, explains how this works for pharmacy students.

“As a pharmacy student at CSU you’ll be based at Orange, New South Wales. You’ll experience life in a flourishing regional town alongside dentistry, physiotherapy and clinical science students.

“CSU is committed to contribute to the communities where we are located. So the CSU pharmacy program has a focus on regional health and rural health practice, including the opportunity to participate in rural professional placement.

“Many of our pharmacy students find casual work in pharmacies in Orange, Bathurst and nearby small towns during their degree. What’s more, they often stay on after graduation as interns and, later, as registered pharmacists and pharmacy owners.”

Another benefit of learning at a regional university is  smaller class sizes and a closer sense of community. These mean you get more personalised learning and increased access to academics to discuss your studies.

Of course, no-one wants an education that limits their options when it comes to starting or progressing their career. So a healthcare qualification from CSU will give you unique insights and understanding about the particular issues and requirements of devising and delivering healthcare services to rural and regional communities. It also gives you the skills and knowledge to work in any location. You could work anywhere from the sweeping plains of the outback to the heart of the city. It will also enable you to work in a wide range of healthcare settings, including:

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • outreach services
  • laboratories
  • private organisations.

The current shortage of healthcare professionals in regional areas, combined with the future projection of Australia’s population, will mean opportunities.

As Heather Robinson notes, “Rural practice offers some unique and varied practice and lifestyle options in an environment of demonstrated need.”

This means that people with the right knowledge, skills and qualifications can play a significant role in ensuring the future wellbeing of our communities. And enjoy an amazing career while they do so.