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The palliative care workforce is made up of a number of health professional groups including specialist palliative medicine physicians, nurses, general practitioners (GPs), pharmacists, other medical specialists (such as oncologists and geriatricians), as well as other health workers, support staff and volunteers.

Medical specialists in palliative care complete post-graduate specialist training to become specialist palliative medicine physicians. Employed specialist palliative medicine physicians are required to have completed advanced training in palliative medicine through the Royal Australasian College of Physicians or the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine, and be admitted as Fellows of one or both of these professional bodies (Centre for Palliative Care 2015a). Many of these physicians have previously completed training as either a GP or other medical specialist. Nurses may complete a variety of short and more comprehensive courses (including postgraduate certificate and Masters qualifications) if they wish to work in the field of palliative care, and postgraduate qualifications are generally required for nurses working in specialist palliative care services (Centre for Palliative Care 2015b).

The information presented in this chapter describes the number and characteristics of the workforce of specialist palliative medicine physicians and nurses working in palliative care (referred to as 'palliative care nurses').

Key points

  • Nationally, there were 192 specialist palliative medicine physicians and 3,269 palliative care nurses in 2014 (0.8 and 12 full-time-equivalent (FTE) per 100,000 population respectively).
  • The highest rates for specialist palliative medicine physicians and palliative care nurses were evident for Major cities (1 and 13 FTE per 100,000 population respectively).
  • In 2014, over 3 in 5 (63%) employed specialists palliative medicine physicians were female which is more than twice the proportion of all employed medical specialists (29%).
  • About 4 in 5 (80%) employed specialist palliative medicine physicians worked in a hospital setting, compared to about half (49%) of employed palliative care nurses.

The information in this section was last updated in May 2016.

The information on specialist palliative medicine physicians presented in this section was derived from the National Health Workforce Data Set (NHWDS) for 2011 to 2014. Data for palliative care nurses were not collected between 2010 and 2012. Prior to 2013 data, the most recent published figures for palliative care nurses from the AIHW Nursing and Midwifery Labour Force Survey 2009 are available in the report Palliative care services in Australia 2012 (AIHW 2012). Estimates of the 2010 medical workforce are not published here due to data quality issues. Estimates of the medical workforce before 2010 were derived from the responses to the AIHW Medical Labour Force Survey. Further details on these data sources are outlined in data sources.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2012. Palliative care services in Australia 2012. Cat. no. HWI 120. Canberra: AIHW.

Centre for Palliative Care 2015a. Training in Palliative Medicine. Melbourne: Centre for Palliative Care. Viewed 14 Jan 2016.

Centre for Palliative Care 2015b. Centre for Palliative Care: Education. Melbourne: Centre for Palliative Care. Viewed 14 Jan 2016.