District of Workforce Shortage

The District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) classification is a health workforce classification for specialist medical practitioners. Read about locations classified DWS and learn how to find them.

The annual update is in progress.

About DWS classification

A DWS is an area where people have poor access to specialist medical practitioners. This is measured by assessing the full-time specialist-equivalent level for an area.

DWS classification process

We use population and Medicare billing data to get a ratio of specialists to population in each Australian Statistical Geography Standard SA3 area in Australia.

An area is classified as DWS if:

How we use the DWS classification

Overseas trained graduate specialists subject to section 19AB of Australia’s Health Insurance Act 1973 may need to work in a location classified DWS to access Medicare.

Specialties are determined as DWS for specialists subject to section 19AB if the location:

  • is classified as Remoteness Area (RA) 3 or greater, or
  • if the specialty reports a national Full-Service Equivalent (FSE) per 100,000 greater than the 3 per 100,000 and the ratio of specialists to population in the area is less than the national average for that specialty. In July 2022, there were 8 specialities with a national FSE greater than 3 per 100,000:
  • anaesthetics
  • cardiology
  • diagnostic radiology
  • general surgery
  • obstetrics and gynaecology
  • ophthalmology
  • medical oncology
  • psychiatry.

See how DWS is used to determine where Bonded Doctors can work.

Updating the DWS classification

We update the DWS every year. The most recent update to the DWS took effect on 21 July 2022.

The DWS classification of an area can change when there has been a significant shift in access to health care since the previous annual update. This might be due to changes in the workforce, or in the size or makeup of the population.

Changes in DWS status

If an area loses DWS, this means that there is measurably more services access than there was previously.

Doctors who hold an existing exemption under section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act 1973 can continue to practise at their location provided they continue to meet the conditions of their exemption. In addition, doctors already in employment negotiations with a practice prior to a status change will still be eligible for an exemption if they provide documentary evidence of this with their application.

Practices unable to employ restricted medical practitioners can still employ Australian trained doctors or doctors not subject to s19AB. 

Read about more about section 19AB.

How DWS differs from other classifications

We use a different method to calculate DWS classifications for specialists to that for the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification system.

DWS shows the number of specialists compared to the population of an area.

The DPA classification is for GPs. DPA is based on gender and age demographics, and the socio-economic status of patients living in an area.

Find areas classified as DWS

To find areas classified as DWS, search the Health Workforce Locator. For specialists subject to section 19AB, you can search the locator by specialty.

Date last updated:

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