A question I am often asked by other doctors is when is a medical recruitment agency a good idea. Not surprisingly when you google this topic you get a list of articles written by medical recruitment agencies so I felt it would be useful to add an independent perspective.

Some of the key reasons you may want to use a medical recruitment agency, also known as a locum company, include:

  • obtaining short term work (otherwise known as locum work), recruitment agencies are adept at filling gaps in hospital rosters and negotiating better rates on your behalf;
  • to gain access to a more extensive list of permanent roles and opportunities, recruitment agents can help to cut down your own effort in the job search; and
  • to help you find a doctor job opportunities in another location, for example relocating to another country, many recruitment agents will provide a comprehensive set of services that include assisting with obtaining the job, handling the regulatory and visa paperwork and even relocation services.

So what are the circumstances where you would probably not wish to use a recruitment agency? Lets examine these before going into more detail about the advantages of recruitment agencies.

When Is It Not Helpful To Use a Medical Recruitment Agent?

The simple answer to the above question is to consider the economic concept of supply and demand. Medical Recruitment Agencies are companies which specialise in finding candidates for hospitals and health services normally when the hospital and health service has exhausted all its usual recruitment strategies and tactics. There is one particular exception to this which will discuss shortly.

But for the most part you can now see the sorts of scenarios where a recruitment agency can be useful to a hospital or health service and therefore also a smart move for the doctor themselves.

If, however, the hospital or health service is not having difficulty attracting candidates for jobs then it is generally not useful to go through a medical recruitment agent. And, in fact, it can possibly hurt your chances.

Let me explain.

If, for example, as is often the case, a hospital advertises a post for a basic unaccredited surgical trainee role for 6-months as part of an activity to cover a gap in its roster of trainees. Then that hospital is likely to get a number of applications, including from trainee doctors already working in the hospital who are keen to get their first job working in surgery. If you apply for this job via an agency it will cost the hospital an additional premium on top of your wages to hire you. Because this is how recruitment agencies make money. So its likely that you might be overlooked for an interview just because of this.

So the sorts of situations where its wiser to apply directly to hospitals and health services in Australia, include:

  • Applying for general entry level jobs, such as Resident Medical Officer and House Officer roles, particularly if you are an International Medical Graduate, as you will be competing against a number of other candidates;
  • Jobs you are already aware of in your local network; and
  • Jobs you have already been invited to apply for.

As indicated above. Some International Medical Graduates in particular will find that medical recruitment agencies may either be unwilling to accept them or provide little support. Particularly, if you are going via the standard pathway to registration. You can see that this makes a lot of business sense from the medical recruitment agency. The odds of successfully placing an IMG who has the AMC Part 1 exam and no permanent residency or citizenship are extremely low.

Similarly, many Specialist IMGs (SIMGs) may find that medical recruitment agencies are unable to help or support until after you receive a favourable college specialist assessment.

What Sort Of IMGs Are The Medical Recruitment Agencies In Australia Interested In?

You can best tell what sort of IMGs the recruitment agencies in Australia are interested in by looking at the types of jobs that they advertise.

It basically boils down to three key criteria:

  • what are of medicine you would like to work in;
  • what country you have trained in; and
  • where you are prepared to work.

Areas of Medicine That Often Require IMGs

Whilst there are generally always gaps in every area of medicine in a country like Australia, particularly in rural or regional areas. Areas such as general practice, psychiatry and emergency or critical care medicine are often in high demand for additional staff. This is because there is quite a high demand for these specialties and this demand often outstrips their popularity amongst doctors.

Preferred Countries

Medical Recruitment Agencies will prefer to work with doctor candidates from the following countries:

  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • Republic of Ireland
  • United States of America
  • Canada

Doctors from New Zealand have almost the same status in Australia and can easily obtain registration. Doctors from the UK, Republic of Ireland, US and Canada are able to more easily gain general registration through the competent authority process. Specialists from these countries also find that they are more easily able to progress through the specialist registration process.

As an example, doctors from the UK dominate the numbers of doctors who apply for specialist registration each year. In 2017 252 UK doctors out of a total of 309 doctors applied for specialist recognition as a GP. We don’t know how many were deemed comparable in General Practice but we do know that overall 99% of UK doctors who applied for specialist recognition were deemed either partial or substantially comparable. With 89% being deemed substantially comparable.

So, as a medical recruitment agency, armed with that knowledge you will obviously see a UK doctor as a “good bet” to gain registration and therefore worth working with.

Where Are You Prepared To Work?

The other consideration taken into account is where you would like to work in Australia. The highest proportion of vacancies for medical jobs is generally the inverse of where the population centres are. So if you are prepared to work in a remote and rural areas you are likely to have several employers interested in you. Whereas, if you want to work in the hear of Sydney you are going to struggle.

So the ideal IMG candidate from a recruitment agency would probably be an experienced General Practitioner from the United Kingdom looking to relocate to Australia to a small town for family and lifestyle reasons.

And the ideal non-candidate from a recruitment agency would probably be an IMG with only a primary medical degree, from a non-competent authority country, who has passed AMC Part 1 (but not 2) and is only prepared to work in a capital city.

Using Medical Recruitment Agencies For Locum (Short Term) Work

We have spent a fair bit of time so far talking about International Medical Graduates and medical recruitment agencies but of course medical recruitment agencies also work with doctors with established qualifications and registration in Australia.

Working short term jobs, is generally referred to as doing a “locum”, which comes from the latin locum tenens, a phrase that means “to hold the place of, to substitute for.” 

This can be a great option for both trainee doctors as well as specialist doctors. Some of the advantages of locumming include:

  • you are generally paid at a much higher rate than if you are working for the hospital or service that you are filling in for;
  • you can take breaks between locum shifts to do other things like study or go on a holiday;
  • you can select between opportunities;
  • you can try out different jobs and different places.

Possibly one of the best reasons I have seen for doctors to do a locum is when they have just completed their specialist training and are wanting to try out different locations and services where they might want to take up a more permanent position.

But there are also potential downsides to locumming. Firstly, whilst you can to some extent pick and choose what you do. If you are too choosy then you might start to not get offered any shifts. Secondly, the types of locum jobs on offer might not exactly be in the field of medicine you want to practice and you might have to take on other roles. Thirdly, with extra pay also generally comes the expectation that you are able to work at a higher capacity and level of responsibility with very little orientation or training and this might push you past your comfort zone. Finally, if you are a trainee doctor locumming then you will have to consider how you prove to the Medical Board that you have been maintaining your professional development.

Using Medical Recruitment Agencies To Expand Your Access To Jobs

Medical Recruitment agencies can also be useful options for busy doctors who would like assistance in finding permanent jobs. With some agencies you can just sign up and indicate that you are looking for jobs in certain specialties and certain areas and wait until they have identified one for you.

Now in most cases if you have the time to look for yourself you can probably identify these vacancies. But an agency might cut down that work for you and also help you to get your application in early and serve you up to the employer as what is called a “hot prospect”. That’s a candidate that potentially has other offers. Which normally motivates the employer to want to speak to you.

Sometimes medical recruitment agencies are directly employed by hospitals and health services to identify candidates. This is commonly referred to as “head hunting.” In this case it is unlikely that the position is being widely advertised or possibly that it has been advertised previously.

This approach is generally used in one of two cases and mostly for senior medical practitioner posts.

Firstly, the hospital or service may have a critical doctor leadership position that they are trying to fill and want to spend some extra money to ensure that they can find a great candidate or hopefully more than one great candidate.

Secondly, the hospital or service may have critical long term vacancies that they have struggled to fill in the normal ways.

In both these circumstances the agency is really your only route to applying for the job.

But you do not necessarily need to be registered for the vacancy. Often times the agency will seek you out. Most often via social media profiles. This is another good reason to start a LinkedIn profile by the way.

Using Medical Recruitment Agencies To Relocate

If you are from another country and looking to secure a position in Australia. And you are in a preferred category. Then going with a medical recruitment company may make a lot of sense. It is quite possible to gain a specialty position in Australia as a SIMG and often time the hospitals or health services will provide a lot of assistance. But a medical recruitment company can also make the process a bit easier for you by streamlining the process, handling some of the paperwork for you and, of course, negotiating on your behalf.

The same can go if you are just moving between places in Australia. Although I haven’t seen a lot of specialists who are already registered and working in Australia using medical recruitment agencies to move States, particularly since we brought in a national medical registration system.

How To Pick A Good Medical Recruitment Agency

I’d be interested in getting feedback from other readers in the comment sections below about how they have gone about picking medical recruitment agencies.

There is no formal specific regulation of commercial recruitment agencies in Australia. Although they are subject to certain general laws, such as the Fair Trading Act 1987 in NSW. Some State bodies do require that agencies undertake additional certification before they are able to work with public employers.

Medical Recruitment Agencies can apply to be members of peak professional groups such as the Recruitment & Consulting Services Association (RCSA) or the Australian Association of Medical Recruitment Agents (AAMRA). The RCSA has a code of professional practice and offers certification. So you can look for these to ensure that the agency is adhering to industry standards and practices.

It does of course partly depend on what reason you are looking to sign up to a medical recruitment agency. Some agencies tend to specialise more in the permanent work and others in the locum work. Some specialise in recruiting in certain areas of medicine.

Most agencies will at least partially list what sort of jobs they have going on their website without requiring you to register and this will give you a better guide as to what areas they work in. The number of job listings also gives you a bit of an indication as to how well established they may be and how successful they are.

However, you should not necessarily disregard up and coming recruitment agencies. These are generally formed when a good recruiter decides to leave one of the big agencies and strike it out on his or her own. Sometimes this means you get personalised service, Jerry MaGuire style.

Probably the best way to decide on a company is to ask around any colleagues who have worked with one in the past and get their recommendations. I’d recommend signing up to more than one initially so that you can compare the overall quality of the service.

For a list of some of the major medical recruitment agencies in Australia you can go here.

Related Questions

Question: How much to medical recruitment agencies make?


Medical recruitment agencies generally work on a commission which they either take from the employer (for a longer appointment) or from the doctor (for shorter term appointments). So if they don’t place a doctor they do not get paid. Commissions can vary widely but can be as high as 20% in some cases.

Question: Do I need to be signed up to a medical recruitment company to do a locum?


No. But it often helps. I have myself arranged to do some locums directly with services and it is possible and the service likes not having to pay the additional premium. But if you are thinking of doing locums regularly then an agent is probably the better way to go.

Question: Do I need to sign up to just one agent or can I sign with more?


If you are working as a locum you are not obliged to sign with one company. In fact it probably makes sense to sign with more than one. As no one company has access to all the jobs that may be available. You also may find that by working with a range of agencies you find one or two that suit your needs better. Many doctors who work for a while will settle with one particular agency as their preferred agent.

Question: What happens to my continuing professional development when I work as a locum?


If you are locumming as a specialist then you should continue to perform whatever continuing professional development (CPD) requirements are expected of you in that specialty and under your college. You should also consider whether your locum work is taking you out of your normal scope of practice and whether you need to tailor your CPD program accordingly.

If you are not a qualified specialist then you will need to actively consider your CPD. The Medical Board assumes that doctors working as prevocational trainees and trainees under a college program are doing sufficient CPD. But once you are not in formal training the Medical Board expects that you will put together a plan and requires a self-directed program of at least 50 hours of CPD to be completed in an annual period from 1 October to 30 September each year. The 50 hours must include a mandatory practice-based self-assessed reflective element/activity of either: a clinical audit, OR a peer review OR a performance appraisal.

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