7 Nov 2022

Concern health professionals from ethnic backgrounds lost to other countries

1:00 pm on 7 November 2022
Zade Al-Ali is in his fourth year at the European University in Cyprus.

Zade Al-Ali is now in his fourth year at the European University in Cyprus. Photo: Supplied

New Zealand could be losing diverse young health professionals to other countries.

Ethnic communities say it is common for the children of immigrants to study medicine and dentistry overseas. For some it's the lure of bigger places and broader horizons, while for others it's the capped number of spots in New Zealand universities.

Zade Al-Ali studied first year health science at Otago University, but couldn't get into the dentistry course there, despite his good grades.

He's now in his fourth year at the European University in Cyprus. He said he was one of many who've had to make the move.

"There's a lot of people who, when I was studying at Otago, that I thought were very capable and very smart individuals and it's quite sad when they don't get accepted," he said.

"A lot of people are very capable of becoming doctors and dentists.

"Once you're in the degree, it kind of morphs you into becoming the practitioner that you wish to be."

Arush is studying medicine at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Like Zade, he had to move to pursue his career aspirations.

"I'd say it's more difficult in New Zealand purely because New Zealand only has two medical schools, so the amount of people applying for medicine versus the amount of spots available, it's a lot more competitive in New Zealand than it is here," he said.

Ministry for Ethnic Communities chief executive Mervin Singham.

Ministry for Ethnic Communities chief executive Mervin Singham says there is not enough data on the issue. Photo: Ministry for Ethnic Communities / Supplied

The phenomenon is something the Ministry for Ethnic Communities was aware of, particularly among Indian New Zealanders wanting to study medicine.

But chief executive Mervin Singham said there was not enough data.

"One of the challenges that we've got in this space, as generally with ethnic diversity, is a lack of statistics that give us a true picture of who's coming, who's going, how many and the reasons why."

He said it was clear there were limitations for people wanting to study fields like medicine in New Zealand.

"The important thing is that we have diversity of workforce in the health sector, and I would say in the health sector in particular, because it's so critical to people's wellbeing," he said.

"And I know that this ambition is shared with the Ministry of Health and the health sector generally."

In a statement, the Dental Council said it did not collect information about second-generation New Zealanders immigrating overseas to pursue dentistry.

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Photo: AFP

The Medical Council stated it was not aware of this group going overseas to study medicine, but did note New Zealand had one of the highest proportion of overseas trained doctors in the world, at 41.5 percent.

And while Te Whatu Ora said it was aware of the trend, it only tracked practising doctor numbers, not how many applied nor where they were from.

So, why the trend among the children of immigrants in particular?

Arush said it could be because of cultural values around education and the type of immigrants allowed into New Zealand.

"Our parents had to struggle quite a lot to move from India to come to New Zealand, so the selection pressure was quite great on bringing those that are very well-educated over to the country and I believe that's carried forward into our childhood and our education."

Both he and Zade eventually want to work in New Zealand.

Te Whatu Ora said priority would always be given to people who trained here, but several recently announced initiatives would help internationally-qualified professionals.

It would also be looking at options for more clinical placements, alongside the Ministry of Health and the Tertiary Education Commission.

The agency said there were no plans to change numbers of dental students because they were not on the skills shortage list, but this would be reviewed in 2023.