1 Sep 2023

Overseas-trained doctors working for call centres, Uber due to NZ registration difficulties

1:35 pm on 1 September 2023
doctor generic hospital

Photo: 123RF

Doctors from India and other countries working in call centres and driving ubers are calling for more help from the government to get registered in New Zealand.

Even though the Medical Council has recently expanded its "registration pathways" for doctors from some countries, the National Party said too many were still being shut out at a time when the health system was desperately short of specialists.

Back in 2020, Paneet Kaur was planning to move to Britain where she had already been invited to apply for a position as an anaesthetist.

But then she met her future husband, and came to New Zealand to be with him.

"If I would have been in the UK at the moment, I would already be working as an anaesthetist."

Three-and-a-half years on, she is stuck working as a healthcare assistant.

Her 12-year medical career in India, including two as a consultant specialist, counts for "almost nothing", she said.

She has sat the English language test three times - a pass is only valid for two years - and she was caught up in Covid-related cancellations.

Of the 26 candidates who sat the clinical registration exam in March, only 16 passed.

Dr Kaur was not one of them.

"It costs more than $5000 to sit the exam.

"I'm still determined because I've studied for so many years, and I'm a qualified person and I don't want to waste my skills."

She is now preparing to resit the exam next year, along with a friend who was a dermatologist back home in India but is also working as a healthcare assistant.

She also knows of a paediatrician working for Vodafone in Christchurch.

"I feel mad. The government should feel even more mad, because they have these skills sitting in their country that they aren't able to use."

After passing the clinical exam, overseas-trained doctors have five years to get a job as an intern in a hospital to work under supervision for two years.

Speaking at a political panel organised last week organised by General Practice New Zealand, National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said some international medical graduates passed the clinical exam but were unable to secure PGY1 and 2 (post graduate year 1 and 2) places in order to get registered.

Shane Reti

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I met with a group of 30 in Ōtāhuhu last week, but there's about 100 that we should really look to credential.

"They have no visa problems, they're already here, they're already here mixing their sweat with ours, yet we let them drive Uber Eats. We need to fix that."

According to the Medical Council, there have only been 28 doctors who have sat and passed the clinical exam in the last five years, but failed to get jobs and gain registration.

Te Whatu Ora's chief people officer Andrew Slater said it wanted overseas doctors to work here, which is why it has set up two pilots each consisting of ten overseas-trained doctors who have passed the clinical exam.

"We want to help more overseas doctors get registered to work here. That's why we've set up two new pilots that are targeted at overseas doctors who have passed their (NZREX) examination in the last five years, allowing them to apply for roles in New Zealand that will lead to full registration as a doctor."

The Bridging Programme pilot in Auckland finished in July, with everyone getting house officer roles.

All ten participants in the Primary Care pathway in Waikato are still completing the programme.

"Each pilot will be evaluated to measure its success," he said.

Te Whatu Ora also plans to boost its international recruitment efforts by targeting specialists at medical conferences.

However, Kaur questionned why New Zealand did not make more use of the doctors who have already made the country their home.

"We are the people who have already chosen to make New Zealand our own country, we are already here. And there's the possibility that we might not leave.

"I have a beautiful family here, a beautiful home in Auckland, my husband's business is here. New Zealand is my country."

Medical Council chief executive Joan Simeon said most international medical graduates no longer had to sit the clinical exam.

"The council has expanded and refreshed its pathways to registration for international medical graduates (IMGs). The result of this is that for the vast number of IMGs, there is no longer any need to sit an examination to gain registration in New Zealand."

Since May this year, doctors who have already completed English language requirements, worked 12 months in Britain and have full registration there have been able to apply directly for New Zealand registration.

There was also a separate vocational registration pathway for specialists.

In the year to the end of June, 96 percent of international medical graduates (1073) - gained registration without having to sit the exam, while 61 registered after passing it.

"Regrettably, the Covid-19 pandemic did cause disruption to the operation of the NZREX Clinical, as it is an in person clinical examination. This resulted in only one exam being held in 2020, however we were pleased to be able to hold two examinations in each of 2021 and 2022, and we are on track to hold two examinations in 2023."

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