A GP’s earnings can vary widely and depend on several factors.
When understanding how much a GP can earn, a good place to start is to consider the practice location. Research has consistently shown that earnings for GPs in outer regional, rural, and remote Australia are higher than GPs working in major cities.
According to the most recent available published data (from the Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) survey, 2018) GPs in rural areas have an increase in income of around 18% compared with those working in urban settings, based on the the median annual income for the following regions:
- Metro ($172,433 per annum)
- Regional, ($193,430 per annum)
- Rural and/or Remote ($204,106 per annum)
There are also numerous government incentive schemes and financial incentives for both GP trainees and GPs in rural and remote areas. For general practice, these areas of need are classified under a Distribution Priority Area (DPA). This means that there are not enough doctors available to tend to the needs of the people living in the area. These areas are scattered across rural and remote Australia.
There are also Government payments to help support GPs to relocate to rural and remote areas, including the Workforce Incentive Program (WIP) through which eligible GPs can access financial incentives.
Number of patients seen per hour
Patient consulting times vary, and the convention is to align this with standards set by Medicare Australia which is a time-based measurement. A standard patient consult is typically under 20 minutes and is known as a ‘Level B’ (most GPs don’t take the full 20 minutes; according to RACGP data, GPs spend an average of 17 minutes with their patients).
Longer and shorter sessions are possible and will change your annual earnings.
Typically, GPs will average 4–5 patients per hour but this is largely dependent on your patient profile and practice mix. According to RACGP data, GPs see an average of 94 patients each week.
Private billing rate for typical Level B consult
Whilst Medicare sets the bulk billing rates for GP consults, there is no legal requirement for doctors to charge this rate. The current Medicare rebate for a ‘Level B’ consult is $39.10.
However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) recommends a much higher amount (this means that any out-of-pocket costs are paid for by a patient and/or any private health insurance they may have). A GP or the practice may selectively charge a higher rate based on patient profile (for example, discounts for Concession Card holders). Practices may also have some in-house ‘rules’ around costs.
A Level B (‘standard’) consult can range anywhere from $39.10 (which means no out-of-pocket costs for the patient), right through to $100 or more (depending on the practice).
Keep in mind, if the patient pays, for example, $80 for a practice’s ‘standard’ consult, the full amount will not end up in the GP’s pocket. A GP will have to pay a percentage of these billings back to the practice to cover the practice’s costs (see more information below).
Percentage of billings earned for regular hours
Your earning capacity as a GP is typically a percentage of your gross billings. There can be substantial costs associated with running a practice (rent, salary for receptionist, practice nurse, etc). Hence a percentage is deducted from your income to cover some of these.
Number of clinical sessions per week
A clinical session in general practice is typically defined as being 3.5–4 hours in duration. Many GPs think of these as being a ‘before lunch’ and ‘after lunch’ session.
Eight sessions a week is considered full-time, but many do up to ten sessions on a regular basis. The actual length of a session is arbitrary and can be by individual doctors to suit personal needs or patient and practice needs.
While the majority of GPs work less than 40 hours per week, this varies depending on different factors. As described in the RACGP Health of the Nation 2020 report, GPs in solo practices and GPs in hospitals, male GPs, older GPs, practice owners, and regional and rural GPs are more likely to work 40 hours or more in a typical week.
Percentage of patients bulk-billed vs private billed
Bulk billing means that the doctors are charging their patients the official rate set by Medicare Australia which results in zero out of pocket costs to the patient.
Many practices have different billing profiles and some may bulk bill all patients whilst others may private bill all patients. Most will have a hybrid where the bulk billing may be offered to students, pensioners or other specific groups of people. The doctor can exercise some discretion in how they bulk bill in most cases.
Performing minor procedural work can greatly increase a GP’s earnings (for example, procedures in skin cancer medicine). These procedures are commonly performed in both metro and rural GP clinics. Many GPs find that their patients would rather see their GP for a minor procedure and may find that their daily practice eventually sub-specialises in performing these procedures.
A GP may also perform larger procedures (for example, in anaesthetics or obstetrics) however, this work is typically practiced in a rural and remote context where there may not be the support of nearby hospitals and specialists.
Total number of after-hours / on-call per week
Whilst not mandatory, many GPs will end up doing some on-call or after-hours work. Some practices have a regular roster whereby they offer after-hours services directly to their patients whilst others have on-call arrangements with their local hospital or community health centre.
The rates and hours vary based on area and type of work but are typically more than regular hours.
Percent of billings for after-hours / on-call
Most GPs will get a higher percentage of billings for after hours and on-call work. Typically, this is 10 to 15 per cent more than your regular percentage.
Number of weeks of annual leave per year
In GP training, annual leave is included in your earnings. Post-Fellowship, most GPs work as a contractor (sometimes called a ‘sole trader’), which means that annual leave is not included in your earnings.
This means that you take the amount of annual leave you like (often, this must be negotiated with the practice manager).
When considering their annual income, all GPs should factor in some time off work to ensure a healthy work/life balance.
Locum GP work
Locum GP work can be a very financially attractive option, especially in rural and remote areas where GPs are paid government subsidies and given financial assistance to help them relocate temporarily.
A GP could undertake just a few weeks of locum GP work per year (sometimes, this could be just for one week to cover the local rural doctor while they take their annual leave). This could mean a huge boost to a GP’s income…and who knows, you may even want to stay rural!
After-hours deputising services
Sometimes called a ‘home-visiting doctor’, after-hours medical deputising services provide urgent care to people in their own home. This work can sometimes offer a high rate than in-clinic general practice. A GP may choose to work a few hours per week through an after-hours provider.
Benefits beyond the financial
Benefits beyond the financial are an attractive component of a GP’s employment. It is hard to put a numerical value on these components, nevertheless, they are an important factor to consider when evaluating a GP’s income.
These benefits can include:
- greater control over working hours
- shifting clinical hours to fit in with personal commitments
- working part-time
- generally, greater flexibly over taking annual or sick leave
- more options on work/home locations (not being necessarily bound to the locality of a tertiary hospital).
Please note, several factors go into calculating a GP’s income beyond those discussed on this page. The advice provided here is general in nature.