2 Apr 2014

Foreign doctors demand action on jobs

11:38 am on 2 April 2014

Foreign doctors who have sat a key medical exam but still can't get medical jobs are demanding action.

The doctors graduated from medical schools in non-North American or non-Western European countries, including Britain, and must therefore pass a registration exam when they emigrate to New Zealand.

About 6 percent of the 1200-1400 international medical graduates who seek registration as doctors in this country need to sit the exam.

However, the Medical Council last week reduced the number of examinations it offers, saying there is a limited number of internship, or postgraduate training, positions in hospitals for the candidates.

Health authorities say that's because more people are graduating from the two medical training universities, Otago and Auckland, and fewer new graduates are heading overseas, because jobs are tight there.

On top of that, says Health Workforce New Zealand executive chair Des Gorman, many local doctors several years after graduating are not making key decisions about what specialisations to pursue and are clogging up the training "pipeline" by remaining in jobs too long.

Bottlenecks remain

Professor Gorman says there are 582 accredited hospital training positions - enough for the 400 New Zealand medical graduates expected to seek to fill them this year - but bottlenecks remain and need to be cleared.

He's urging all district health boards to stop recruiting resident medical officers, also known as junior doctors, from overseas. He told Morning Report he expects the jobs will open up for foreign doctors within the next year.

Medical Council chair Andrew Connolly says it takes foreign doctors who passed the registration exam an average of six to nine months to get jobs. In his view, it's therefore not morally acceptable to give people false hope of being able to practise medicine - uprooting their families and emigrating on the basis of that hope - if the chance is not there or is limited.

"What I can do," Mr Connolly says, "is reassure any of the overseas doctors who have already registered for the exam that if they have been assigned to an exam, that exam will take place. So we're not going to disadvantage anyone who's already in the system."

Passed the exam but still no job

Dr Morella Lascurain, who can't find a job in New Zealand.

Dr Morella Lascurain, who can't find a job in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Jason Oxenham

That assurance is no consolation to foreign-trained doctors who passed the exam but still don't have a job, such as Aucklander Morella Lascurain, from Venezuela.

She says there's no official record of the number of doctors in this situation so she did her own survey and found 31 foreign-trained doctors without hospital positions.

Dr Lascurain says they are also up against a matching system known as Advanced Choice of Employment (ACE), which has been used to match applicants to DHB jobs since 2003 but which limits the process to graduates from New Zealand and Australian medical schools - whether they are citizens and permanent residents of both countries or not.

She says that excludes people like her and amounts to discrimination: "They need to hire everyone else on the list, on that matching (list), before they can even offer you a job. So this has been impossible."

The Auckland Regional Migrant Services Charitable Trust has complained to the Human Rights Commission on behalf of affected doctors. It says 30 doctors - including 27 New Zealand citizens or permanent residents - passed the exam between 2011 and 2013 and needed a hospital placement to gain registration. Many of the doctors had held senior positions in their countries, and spoke several languages.

The trust says policies need to be evaluated by the ACE scheme, Health Workforce New Zealand and Immigration New Zealand as possible instances of discrimination.