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Open Access Study protocol

The "Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL)" longitudinal survey - Protocol and baseline data for a prospective cohort study of Australian doctors' workforce participation

Catherine M Joyce1*, Anthony Scott2, Sung-Hee Jeon2, John Humphreys3, Guyonne Kalb2, Julia Witt4 and Anne Leahy2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Alfred Hospital, Monash University, Melbourne Victoria 3004, Australia

2 Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Alan Gilbert Building, The University of Melbourne, Parkville Victoria 3010, Australia

3 School of Rural Health, Monash University, PO Box 666, Bendigo, Victoria 3552, Australia

4 Department of Economics, 501 Fletcher Argue Building, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 5V5, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:50  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-50

Published: 25 February 2010

Abstract

Background

While there is considerable research on medical workforce supply trends, there is little research examining the determinants of labour supply decisions for the medical workforce. The "Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL)" study investigates workforce participation patterns and their determinants using a longitudinal survey of Australian doctors. It aims to generate evidence to support developing effective policy responses to workforce issues such as shortages and maldistribution. This paper describes the study protocol and baseline cohort, including an analysis of response rates and response bias.

Methods/Design

MABEL is a prospective cohort study. All Australian doctors undertaking clinical work in 2008 (n = 54,750) were invited to participate, and annual waves of data collections will be undertaken until at least 2011. Data are collected by paper or optional online version of a questionnaire, with content tailored to four sub-groups of clinicians: general practitioners, specialists, specialists in training, and hospital non-specialists. In the baseline wave, data were collected on: job satisfaction, attitudes to work and intentions to quit or change hours worked; a discrete choice experiment examining preferences and trade-offs for different types of jobs; work setting; workload; finances; geographic location; demographics; and family circumstances.

Discussion

The baseline cohort includes 10,498 Australian doctors, representing an overall response rate of 19.36%. This includes 3,906 general practitioners, 4,596 specialists, 1,072 specialists in training, and 924 hospital non-specialists. Respondents were more likely to be younger, female, and to come from non-metropolitan areas, the latter partly reflecting the effect of a financial incentive on response for doctors in remote and rural areas. Specialists and specialists in training were more likely to respond, whilst hospital non-specialists were less likely to respond. The distribution of hours worked was similar between respondents and data from national medical labour force statistics. The MABEL survey provides a large, representative cohort of Australian doctors. It enables investigation of the determinants of doctors' decisions about how much, where and in what circumstances they practice, and of changes in these over time. MABEL is intended to provide an important resource for policy makers and other stakeholders in the Australian medical workforce.