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Nation sleep-walking into anaesthetist glut

Anaesthetists are being hit by rising rates of unemployment and underemployment as swelling numbers of graduate compete for a shrinking number of positions.

In a sobering submission to the AMA Federal Council, the Anaesthetist Specialty Group reported that the rate at which people were entering the profession far outstripped growth in positions, shrinking opportunities and undermining wages and conditions.

The group reported that between 200 and 300 people are joining the profession each year, and the popularity of the specialty is high. Last year almost 10 per cent of final year medical students wanted to become an anaesthetist, and more than 1000 were currently enrolled in the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists training program.

It warned of a looming oversupply of anaesthetists caused by unfettered growth in training places, a slowdown in rates of retirement among senior specialists, shrinking employment opportunities in public hospitals and private clinics, and greater difficulty in gaining credentialing at private hospitals.

In the absence of official data, the report cited surveys conducted by the College and the Australian Society of Anaesthetists showing that, in 2014, 11 per cent of new Fellows had not found a job after 12 months, and 14 per cent reported being unemployed at some point in their first five years.

In addition, more than a third reported being underemployed and almost 30 per cent felt they were not getting sufficient variety of work to maintain their skills. Unsurprisingly, three quarters believed too many anaesthetists were being trained.

The group warned of signs employers were preparing to take advantage of the looming oversupply of anaesthetists by driving hard deals on pay and conditions.

“There appears to be an increase in the adoption of increasingly harsh contracts for salaried anaesthetists,” the report said. “Often, anaesthetists are informed non-signing of the contract, presented only a few days before the agreement was due to commence, will result in termination of employment.”

Adrian Rollins