Health staffing crisis limits chances for foreign-trained doctors

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

The health-sector's critical staffing crisis is not only seeing vacancies go unfilled, but it's also limiting our ability to give skilled doctors with international qualifications a clear pathway to working within New Zealand's health service.

On Monday, Health Minister Andrew Little announced the Government's plans to boost staff across the health workforce by training more people domestically, and bringing in more doctors and nurses from overseas.

This included a number of proposals designed to streamline and fund the process for those workers from non-comparable health-systems to get their credentials recognised here.

For doctors, this comes in the form of a six-month bridging programme that includes a six-week induction course and three-month training internship. According to Te Whatu Ora / Health NZ, staffing pressures mean this would only see 10 doctors be ready to work here by mid-2023.

A spokesperson for the health organisation says this number was determined by "the availability of clinical supervision", which it considered alongside the trainee requirements of current junior doctors.

The programme, which is just a pilot, has been welcomed by many internationally-trained doctors who hope it will be the start of more opportunities.

Tamryn Lindeboom is a South African doctor who has more than four years experience in anaesthetics and intensive care. Because she trained and worked in a health system that is not one of the 23 deemed compatible with ours, she needed to pass a New Zealand Registration Examination (NZREX).

She passed, but it's taken her countless letters to DHBs, politicians and to the media, to finally secure a medical internship here.

The Medical Council says a lack of funding meant New Zealand and Australian medical graduates were given priority over NZREX qualified doctors.

"I was in the country for three years prior to getting my position [as a doctor]," Lindeboom said. "I eventually went out to the media to make a stand, to say we're here, we want to help.

"We just feel like we are unwanted in some ways. So to hear of this new pathway, I'm grateful we are being heard."

But with only 10 NZREX roles being piloted, and a lack of funded roles for them elsewhere in the sector, it will do little to fill the shortage now.

MedRecruit's Dr Sam Hazledine says it's good to see the Government finally acknowledging there is a staffing crisis, but these plans will take a long time to translate into useable resources.

"There are vacancies everywhere, in every specialty and at all levels," he said. "That's not a good thing. Doctors are really struggling.

"The problem with that is it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have a huge amount of vacancies, then the current staff are overworked, and at some point a lot of them just start to thin, this is not for me."

Many he says are leaving, with a large number already having been enticed across the Tasman.

"Australia has been really aggressive in using every tool they have, they are recruiting a result we are seeing a real tide shift towards staff being mobilised into Australia."

Dr Steven Matiga says he would gladly fill the gap. As doctor with 10 years of experience in the Philippines, more recently on the Covid frontline, he came here to reunite with his wife who works as a nurse.

But he's found it easier to get his credentials recognised in Australia.

"At the same time my wife has already got a job offer for a job in Australia, so we were considering a plan to transition there...but we will see what opportunities are here

"If they would just open the door of opportunity for us," he said. "We would really work our best and give back and help New Zealand which we consider our new home now."