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.