DENTISTS earn more than medical specialists and GPs but see fewer patients and have higher costs, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey of medical businesses released last week. (1)

Dental businesses generated a total income of $6.7 billion in the 2009–10 financial year. This equated to an average of $347 000 of fee-for-service income per practitioner. Dentists had an average of 52 patient contacts a week.

Medical specialists saw 78 patients a week, earning $271 200 of fee-for-service income. For GPs, the average fee-for-service income per practitioner was $181 600 for 124 patient contacts a week.

The survey was based on a sample of 4333 private businesses and organisations, which provided data sourced primarily from financial statements, and on tax data supplied by the Australian Taxation Office. The ABS used the data to estimate the financial performance and workforce characteristics of the businesses for 2009–10.

The survey showed dentists had a lower operating profit margin (24.7%) compared with specialist medical practitioners (37.3%).

Medical specialist businesses had higher profit margins than any other health businesses in the report, including general practices, pathology, optometry and physiotherapy. Small medical specialist practices (fewer than three practitioners) had the highest profit margins (45.1%).

Specialist practices also seemed to have substantially increased their profit margin since a 2001–02 ABS report on private medical practices, when it stood at 28.1%. (2)

The Australian Dental Association said the ABS report highlighted the financial impact of regulatory requirements on dentists.

“Dentists provide their care in a specialised setting, likened to that of a mini-hospital, where infection control and other regulatory requirements cause higher overheads for a practice”, association president Dr Shane Fryer said.

The ABS report found that overall, health care businesses were lucrative and busy.

Health businesses generated $43 billion income in 2009–10, but had expenses totalling $32 billion. Each week, health care professionals made six million patient contacts, three-quarters of which were in general practice.

The report found that medicine remains male dominated, but the gender balance has improved since a 2002 ABS survey of private medical practitioners. (3)

Although the ABS cautioned that methodologies have changed since the 2001–02 surveys, they do show that the proportion of female GPs has increased from 33% in 2001–02 to 36% in the current survey.

Among medical specialists, the proportion of women increased from 14% to 22%. In 2009–10, only 156 of Australia’s 1893 surgeons were women (8%). However, the report cautions that this statistic has a large relative standard error.

Allied health workers within specialist practices were more likely to be women (76%), and younger, with 52% aged under 46 years. Only 31% of medical specialists were aged under 46 years.

The report also highlighted the heavy administrative load involved in running a health care business. For instance, of the 107 213 people engaged in general practice businesses, only 57.5% provided actual patient care (including doctors and allied health workers). The proportions were similar for medical specialists.

Other findings of the report included that many health professionals seem to be enjoying flexible working arrangements. Only 55% of employee GPs and 54% of employee specialists were employed on a permanent full-time basis.

– Sophie McNamara

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Health care services, 2009–10

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Private medical practices, Australia, 2001–02

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Private medical practitioners, Australia, 2002

Posted 11 July 2011

7 thoughts on “Dentists are top earners

  1. Dubious says:

    The above sort of figures are always dubious, because they usually fail to clarify whether the so-called ‘earnings’ were before or after expenses. The grabby headline makes it sound like dentists are way out in front, but if that is before expenses, and you state their profit margins are only of the order of 25%, then they are not doing so well. Same applies to specialists (37%, and you dont even quote the cost peercentage average for GPs – hard to assess I know, but the figures are meaningless without). The only thing clear is GPs see a lot more people for a lot less money, so sort of explains quite well why there is a shortage of GPs entering the business.

  2. RayT says:

    I’ve had a lot of dental work done over the years and have long been aware of the income differential, and also the higher equipment costs of dental practice. I have discussed practice issues with dentists and have yet to meet one who has any interest in getting involved with a Medicare type arrangement. In fact, not one of the dentists I have seen in Melbourne or Adelaide had even an interest in seeing patients on GP referral under the Medicare extension scheme.

  3. WilB says:

    We are now beholden to the Government of the day as a result of becoming involved in Medicare. Those who “bulk billed” have a lot to answer for – & it will become worse. Compare the above figures with those of lawyers & accountants!

  4. sumee says:


  5. mimika says:

    It is so annoying to see these figures in the press, as patients then assume GPs are wealthy.
    The article does not state whether the incomes for GPs were total billings, of which the GP would only receive a percentage. As most GPs are not employees, they would get between 50 to 70% of the total billings, if contractors. Even if they had their own practice, much of this figure would go on wages and other expenses, so the personal income would be much lower.
    I earn less than half of the quoted figure,(working 4 days per week which is all I can manage) and would love to earn $180,000 – retirement would be that much closer! After more than 30 years as a GP I would like to retire in about 5 years but it doesn’t look likely. If I could I would start another career but GPs training is limiting. And unlike many other professions, our income does not go up with experience or seniority. Who’d be a GP these days?

  6. RayT says:

    Only a few medical specialities can make you wealthy, and most of them seem to be the procedural ones.
    During my last 2 years in private practice in psychiatry in Melbourne – 2006-8 – my net taxable income was under $70K on a 36-hour week. My retirement came after an inheritance from my older sister who left school at 16 and went into real estate!
    Interestingly, a psychiatrist who bulk-billed would earn a lower gross hourly rate than a bulk-billing GP. A solo GP’s costs would be much higher I assume, but group practice to share costs is more easy to set up among GPs, as specialists tend to be individualists, and the economics push psychiatrists to clump at the private hospitals that offer subsidised suites in central locations..

  7. Anonymous says:

    Dentists making $300K on average?? Hahahaha. Just love such sensational but utterly nonsensical headline grabbers. In the face of the GFC, many private dentists are financially SUFFERING now due to very low paying demand for their serivces. Even in the moneymaking heydays of the 80s & 90s, the average salaried dentist with 5 years of experience only made $90K-$110K. An owner GENERAL dentist in the metro cities may make about $350K+ GROSS PROFIT in a 2-chair practice seeing 30 patients a week but their overheads (dental employees, sterilisation & dental nurses, receptionist, rent & equipment maintenance) is about $120K-$150K. Not nearly as stratospheric now is it?

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