Public or Private? New Study Looks at Where Australian Doctors Prefer to Work

In Australia, as in many countries, physicians can work in the public and the private healthcare sectors. In a new paper, PCHSS investigator Professor Anthony Scott and colleagues examine physicians’ preferences for working in either sector, or in a combination of the two.

Photo of Professor Anthony Scott
Professor Anthony Scott

Based on a study of over 3,400 non-general practitioner specialists in Australia, “Preferences of physicians for public and private sector work”, published in Human Resources for Health in August 2020, found that there is a slight inclination towards the public sector work but that this preference was not universal.

The reasons behind doctors’ preferences were heterogenous. For instance, physicians averse to clinical and career risk were found to have a stronger preference for the private sector – a finding that runs contrary to the existing literature on public-private job choice. Further, among high-wage earners, there was a modest preference toward spending time working in the private sector. Nevertheless, income was generally found to be a weak predictor of physicians’ preferences. The authors note:

These results suggest that non-wage factors play a stronger role in sector choice compared to wages and the sector itself. In Australia, medicine is the occupation delivering the highest earnings, and so the marginal utility of income for this group is likely to be small relative to lower earning occupations….

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