Comparison of nurses and doctors registered in Australia


Quick Facts

  • According to 2016 AHPRA data there were 342,221 nurses and 104,102 doctors practicing in Australia. This means more than three nurses for every doctor.
  • The gender of doctors was roughly equal as 58.2% were male, compared to the female-dominated nursing which encompassed 12% identifying as male.
  • Investigating age practitioners in both groups showed a majority were under 50- 65.6% of nurses and 72.9% of doctors. Both groups also showed the highest number of practitioners were in the 30-34 year age range.
  • The number of nurses state-by-state was not suprising with NSW showing the largest share (27.4%) followed by Victoria (26.3%) and Queensland (20.1%).
  • NSW showed a low density of people per kilometer but the highest number of nurses compared to other states and territories.  

The inspiration for my post this morning was a tweet by the Australian Health Practitioners Association (AHPRA) for International Nurses Day which stated that nationally there were 375,528 registered and enrolled nurses in Australia currently. This includes practicing and non-practicing nurses. An advantage of AHPRA becoming the central body for clinical registration is to allow for national statistics for registrants which can be compared. So I investigated some statistics regarding nurses in Australia and how those statistics compare to equivalent doctor numbers.
Both sets of figures were taken from comparable AHPRA reports; for nurses it is the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia registrant data, and for doctors it is the Medical Board of Australia registrant data. Both reports were for the 1st of October to 31st of December 2016 date range and all figures excluded practitioners who were not practicing their particular clinical area at the time of the report (therefore excluding non-practitioners). The results were surprising in some areas, while expected in others:
A total of 342, 221 nurses were practicing in Australia during the report, while only 104,102 doctors were licensed at the time. Therefore for every doctor there were over three nurses licensed. The gender gap for doctors was quite narrow with 58.2% being male, however nursing continues to be a female-dominant profession with only 12% being listed as male. This, however, shows improvement from the year I graduated in which less than 10% of nurses were male.
Age was also an interesting read. To allow for easier comparison I broke the data into two age ranges: under 25 to 49 and 50  to 80+. These ages seem to represent two classic working demographics, prime working years (U25-50), and those approaching retirement. A common statement heard amongst critics of the current nursing workforce is that the nursing cohort is ageing, however according to the reports investigated nurses over 50 only accounted for 34.4% of workers with the vast majority (65.6%) under the age of 50. Doctors showed even more youth with 72.9% being under the age of 50. Nurses over the age of 65 were double that of doctors (4.2% vs 1.9%). The largest decade-cohort was identical for both at 30-34 with nurses representing 13.5% and doctors representing 14% of this bracket.
A state-by-state comparison of nurses showed, to me, an expected result. The highest number of nurses was found in New South Wales (NSW) with 27.4%, Victoria seconding (26.3%) and Queensland in third-place with 19.7%. The other states and territories accounted for 26.6%. Doctors showed similar trends. This trend closely coincides with population statistics taken in September 2016 which showed NSW having 32.0% of the population of Australia, Victoria having 25.2% and Queensland again in third with 20.1%.
An insight into the difficulty of providing healthcare in Australia could be identified by looking at population density during the same September 2016 period. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) ranks as the most dense state with 171.40 persons per kilometer meaning that the residents would be in close proximity to health facilities. Victoria is second with a density of 26.11 persons per kilometer showing more difficulty of providing healthcare services in a less urban environment. New South Wales shows that each kilometer only holds 9.52 persons, providing for vast rural area to cover.
So what does all of these numbers mean? Well there are over three nurses for every doctor in Australia. Both are showing younger cohorts with the largest number being in the 30-34 year old range. Within nursing this is a shift from the threat that the nursing population is becoming older and therefore going to retire soon. Medicine is showing to be an equal mix of male and female, however nursing is still female-dominated.

The numbers of nurses by state closely match that of population. However, when compared to density the ACT showed less nurses were required to take care of a highly dense state area showing a specifically urban landscape. While in my home state of New South Wales we had the highest number of licensed nursing staff and a very sparse 9.52 persons per kilometer, meaning a large rural component when compared to the ACT.

All in all the numbers renew my faith that nursing in Australia is not currently a profession of elderly women as it is sometimes portrayed, but a vibrant profession which attracts young (and male) talent. I am proud to be called a registered nurse, and I hope that all 375,528 licensed nurses can say the same.

What do you think of these figures?



Nursing and Midwifery Board registrant data

Medical Board of Australia registrant data


One thought on “Comparison of nurses and doctors registered in Australia

  1. […] registered in Australia all the way back to 2012, along with pertinent demographic data which I used in an earlier post. So why has AHPRA not bothered to reveal student nursing […]


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