Practice managers want greener pastures, too

3 minute read

A workforce crisis mirroring that among GPs could be brewing at the business end.

GPs aren’t the only ones to be tempted by the greener grass on the other side of the specialist fence – practice staff also want in on calmer, better remunerated pastures.

It’s no secret that GPs are leaving the profession in droves. Just yesterday, RACGP president Adjunct Professor Karen Price predicted that damaging reports in the media will “reverberate for years to come and have a negative impact on the future of an already teetering GP workforce”.

The crisis has not gone unfelt among practice administration staff. According to practice manager Riwka Hagen, the founder and principal consultant at practice advisory firm Medical Business Services and admin of the 9000 member-strong Practice Managers Network Facebook group, an increasing number of GP practice managers are searching for work with non-GP specialists.

“In many ways it’s really quite perverse, because the more complex roles [like general practice] are remunerated generally poorly and are really complex and stressful,” she told The Medical Republic.

“Whereas there are … more defined roles and activities in specialist practice, and they tend to be able to pay their staff much better.”

Much like doctors, administration and management staff find non-GP specialist work appealing because it has a singular focus, whereas GP work is whatever walks in the door.

Ms Hagen said the workforce shortage problem was snowballing.

Practice managers are leaving general practice because their roles are complex and poorly defined.

When they leave, they take their accumulated, informal knowledge of the job with them; this only makes the job more complex and poorly defined for the person who steps into their role.

 “Because of the shortage of staff in primary care, we’re seeing the [promotion] of a lot of receptionists or senior receptionists into the role of practice manager,” she said.

“And [those jobs] are not the same – they are absolutely struggling.”

While that may be the prevailing sentiment, it’s important to note that the 517 GP practice managers and 81 non-GP specialist practice managers who responded to this year’s Practice Managers Network salary survey reported little difference in pay between the two jobs.

It’s true that non-GP practice managers have a median hourly pay rate of around $44 while their GP equivalents receive a median rate of $40 per hour.

The gap closes when looking at the averages, though; non-GP practice managers receive a mean of around $40 per hour while GP practice managers receive around $42 per hour.

A higher proportion of GP practice managers also reported having a diploma of practice management compared to non-GP.

Additionally, while one in five non-GP practice managers reported having no relevant qualifications for the job, this was only true for one in six GP practice managers.

Essentially, while there might be movement in the sector, the pay looks to be largely similar and general practice has retained skilled practice administration employees, at least for the time being.

There’s also the possibility that the data could be skewed by the fact that GP practice managers outweighed non-GP practice managers in the sample by a hefty margin.

In any event, Ms Hagen said that the reality she had seen on the ground was that skilled practice managers want out of general practice.

“It all [comes] back to the fact that … for the ethical operators who provide high-quality care to patients the financial picture is really not compelling at all,” she said.

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