Am I Eligible to Work in Australia as a UK Junior Doctor in 2023?
Before you get too excited about moving to Australia as a UK junior doctor, you first need to check if you are legally allowed to work there.
To work in Australia as a doctor, you need to be eligible for registration with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). The AHPRA is the Australian medical registration body equivalent to the GMC in the UK or the Medical Council of Ireland.
The good news is that this is a well-trodden path for registered doctors with the GMC, and the process is smooth for most doctors. But, you need to be aware of some common pitfalls.
In this article, we will break down the following:
👉 The professional bodies and organisations to be aware of
👉 The types of registration pathway in Australia
👉 Deep dive into common pathways and eligibility requirements
👉 Some common scenarios to help you see what your eligibility might be
🥼 Who’s who?
AMC, AHPRA and EPIC are the 3 important professional bodies to be aware of while applying for registration in Australia.
AMC - Australian Medical Council
The AMC is the independent national standards body for medical education and training. If you are trying to make a comparison, there is no direct UK equivalent.
When applying for registration in Australia, they are the body that verifies your qualifications and other documents through the EPIC portal, and give the go-ahead to AHPRA to issue your registration. Application to AMC and verification must be done before international medical graduates can apply for registration with AHPRA.
AHPRA - Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
AHPRA are the regulatory board, equivalent to the GMC in the UK. Your registration and licence to practice in Australia are held with AHPRA.Their role is to “protect the public and set standards and policies that all registered health practitioners must meet.”
They oversee registration, compliance, professional standards, notifications and accreditation. They also publish the national register of practitioners. Unlike the GMC, which is the professional body for doctors only, AHPRA covers all 16 healthcare professions, such as nurses, midwives, dentists, doctors, etc.
Medical Board of Australia
The Medical Board of Australia regulates the profession and monitors continuing professional development. They work very closely with AHPRA to set and regulate professional standards for doctors. You will interact less with them during your time in Australia, but it is still helpful to be aware of their role.
💼 What are the types of registration?
There are two types of registration with AHPRA: provisional and general registration.
This provides up to 12 months of registration to allow supervised practice in Australia. This registration level is comparable to being provisionally registered with the GMC during your FY1 year. You have to work supervised under a named supervisor in a named job at all times, so you cannot work as a locum under provisional registration.
This is essential for doctors that have not practised in Australia before - barring some Consultants using the Specialist pathway (see below), all overseas doctors moving to Australia will start off on provisional registration. Only after 47 weeks of full-time supervised practice is complete can a doctor be deemed eligible to apply for general registration.
This registration level is comparable to being fully registered with the GMC after successfully completing your FY1 year. It allows you to be fully registered as a doctor in Australia. Additionally, you can work outside of the supervision regime from provisional registration, so that you can undertake locum work.
The process of ‘upgrading’ to general registration is simple: you submit reports from your supervisor and a letter of recommendation to the AMC for them to approve and inform AHPRA that you are eligible.
🤝 What are the registration pathways?
There are three main pathways through which you can get registered with AHPRA.
✅ Competent Authority pathway: This is a kind of fast track if you are already registered with a “competent authority” such as the GMC and meet some additional criteria. Most UK and Irish doctors will fall under this pathway.
✅ Standard pathway: If you are not eligible for the competent authority, you can register if you participate in two (expensive) exams.
✅ Specialist pathway: This pathway is for Consulants only, and allows you to apply to the relevant royal college in Australia to get your experience reviewed, and if suitable, you are granted registration. Many Consultants with GMC registration will prefer to use the Competent Authority pathway however if eligible, as this is much simpler.
✅ Competent Authority Pathway
This is the most common, fastest and easiest method of registering to work in Australia as a doctor. This is because AHPRA effectively relies on the fact that you’re validly registered with the GMC or another competent authority to ‘fast track’ your registration.
However, some tricky conditions apply.
To be eligible, you have to satisfy the following four conditions:
1️⃣ Have a job offer from a hospital in Australia
Your written offer from an Australian hospital needs to be submitted with your application for this pathway, so you are not eligible to apply beforehand.
2️⃣ Be registered with the GMC or other competent authority
The full list of Competent Authorities is:
🇬🇧 General Medical Council
🇨🇦 Medical Council of Canada
🇺🇸 United States (various licensing boards)
🇳🇿 Medical Council of New Zealand
🇮🇪 Medical Council of Ireland
3️⃣ Have graduated from a UK medical school (or affiliated) OR have completed the PLAB exams
There are two alternatives here.
Firstly, you must have graduated from a UK medical school, or from a very short list of overseas medical schools which are affiliated with UK Medical schools. You can download the list here.
If that doesn't apply, you are still eligible if you have passed the PLAB exams. This helps to sweep up many IMGs who registered with the GMC after they went to medical school in their home countries.
There are equivalent exams to the PLAB for the other competent authorities, such as USMLE for the US, LMCC in Canada and NZREX in New Zealand.
Note that for the UK, only the PLAB exams count for this test, so if you are registered with GMC using MRCP, MRCS or other membership exams, you are not eligible for the Competent Authority pathway. Even though these exams are more advanced than the PLAB 🤦♂️
Unfortunately, there are many British and UK-trained doctors who fall between these two options. A British doctor who did their medical school overseas rather than in the UK and then went into F1 as normal without PLAB would not be eligible for the Competent Authority pathway. You have to rely on the Standard pathway (see below).
👉 Have done at least 12 months of supervised work within the competent authority
For most UK doctors, F1 will satisfy this easily. This means if you want to move to Australia before finishing F1, you cannot use this pathway.
If you didn’t do Foundation Training in the UK (e.g. if you are an IMG who did PLAB exams to register with the GMC), you just need to show 12 months of work experience in the NHS.
So, how do you prove this? If you have full registration with the GMC (which you get after F1 or a year of supervision), you can evidence this with your Certificate of Good Standing from the GMC. It doesn’t matter if you no longer have an active licence to practise with the GMC.
If you are still on a provisional registration with the GMC, you need to provide a letter from your employer that states that you have completed 12 months of supervised practice with them.
Please note: If your competent authority is the US or Canada, the requirement is 24 months of supervised work instead of 12 months.
Once you successfully register via the Competent Authority pathway, you are granted provisional registration with AHPRA.
For more information, check out the Competent Authority page on the Medical Board of Australia website.
✅ Standard Pathway
If you’re not eligible for the Competent Authority pathway, your fallback is the Standard pathway.
The drawback of this is that you have to complete two exams, which are expensive and time-consuming.
Firstly, your primary qualification in medicine and surgery has to be awarded by a training institution recognised by both the Australian Medical Council and the World Directory of Medical Schools (WDOMS). The lists here are extensive, so this is unlikely to be an issue.
The two exams you have to complete are called:
1) AMC CAT MCQ Examination
The AMC Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) MCQ Examination is a computer-administered, fully integrated multi-choice question examination delivered in one 3.5-hour session. The examination consists of 150 A-type MCQs, and "focuses on essential medical knowledge involving understanding the disease process, clinical examination and diagnosis, and investigation, therapy and management". You can sit this exam in your home country.
The main downside of this examination is the cost. As of Jan 1, 2023, this exam will cost A$2,920. You can see a breakdown of fees on the AMC website.
2) AMC Clinical Examination
This OSCE-style exam assesses clinical skills in medicine, surgery, obstetrics, gynaecology, paediatrics and psychiatry. It also assesses the ability to communicate with patients, their families and other healthcare workers.
The examination comprises 16 assessed stations and 4 rest stations. You rotate through a series of stations and undertake various clinical tasks. Most stations are of 10 minutes duration (comprising two minutes of reading time and eight minutes of assessment time).
You must pass the AMC CAT MCQ Examination before applying for the AMC Clinical Examination.
For a summary of the content exam, you can check out the AMC website.
This exam is also very expensive. As of January 1, 2023, this exam will cost a whopping A$4,130!
Once you successfully register via the Standard pathway, you are granted provisional registration with AHPRA.
For more information on the Standard Pathway, check out the Medical Board of Australia website.
✅ Speciliast Pathway
If you are a Consultant, you can apply using the Specialist pathway.
In summary, you apply to the relevant specialist medical college in Australia using their application form. The college assesses comparability against the criteria for an Australian-trained specialist in the same field of speciality practice.
The college will assess your experience. If you are deemed suitable, you will be granted registration with AHPRA. You will be required to undertake a period of supervised practice, which may involve completing the workplace-based assessment(s) or further training, which may involve college assessment, including examinations.
Special rules apply if you are applying to an “area of need” with greater shortages of local doctors.
You can read more about the Specialist Pathway on the Medical Board of Australia website.
🤔 Specific Scenarios
If you are unclear on how these rules might apply to your specific situation, here are some common scenarios faced by doctors seeking to understand their eligibility for registration in Australia and the options available in each:
👉 I am an... F3 who has completed Foundation Training and went to a UK medical school
This is the simplest scenario, and you can use the Competent Authority pathway. You will be able to fast-track since you are already registered with the GMC.
👉 I am an... F3 who has completed Foundation Training and went to a non-UK medical school
You will not be eligible for the Competent Authority pathway unless your medical school is on the (very short) list of overseas medical school provided by AHPRA, or you have already passed the PLAB exams.
If you are not eligible, you have to fall back to the Standard pathway and sit their exams to register.
👉 I am a... post-F1 doctor who wants to apply before completing Foundation Training
In this case, it doesn’t matter if you have not done your F2 year—you just need to have finished F1 to pass the 12 months of experience criteria within the Competent Authority pathway. The rules around medical schools apply as above.
👉 I am a... junior doctor who has completed PLAB
You are eligible via the Competent Authority pathway if you have done PLAB, plus completion of 12 months of supervised work in the UK. Remember that only the PLAB exam counts for the Competent Authority pathway test. So if you are registered with GMC using MRCP, MRCS or other membership exams, you are not eligible for the Competent Authority pathway.
👉 I am a... Consultant-level doctor registered with the GMC
You have two choices if you are a Consultant on the Specialist Register. Firstly, you can assess your eligibility for the Competent Authority pathway, which is the easiest. But if you are blocked by this, you can use the Specialist pathway. There are no exams, but it is more complex than the Competent Authority pathway as you have to be assessed by a royal college in Australia.
👉 I am a... doctor practising in a country which is not on the competent authority list
For example, if you are practising in Western Europe, India, Pakistan, you are not eligible for the Competent Authority pathway and so must use the Standard pathway. If you're working at a Consultant-level, you can consider the Specialist pathway to avoid the exams and cost of the Standard pathway.
What to do next?
See our detailed article (coming soon) which walks you in detail through the steps of registration with AHPRA, how to tackle each step and the timings and costs for each.
📚 This article is part of Messly's Ultimate Guide to Working in Australia. The guide covers all you need to know as a UK doctor to understand your options, research your move, find work, get registered and move out to Australia.
🤔 If you are still weighing up whether a move to Australia is right for you, our article To Aus or not to Aus breaks down the pros and cons, so you can make an informed decision. Read this with Common Questions on Moving to Australia as a UK Junior Doctor.
This article was written with input from Dr Eda Yardimci, a British doctor currently working in General Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. She moved out to Australia in her F5 year and registered using the Competent Authority pathway.
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