Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

The $400,000 smalltown job that no one wants

Smalltown GP struggling to recruit a doctor to ease his ‘massive’ workload.

A Tokoroa doctor is struggling to fill a job that offers a young GP the potential to earn an eye-watering $400,000-plus a year - and he will even chuck in half his practice for free.

The desperate doctor took to online job sites at the weekend after four medical recruitment firms had been unable to find a suitable candidate over the past two years.

Dr Alan Kenny says the catch is the job is not in Auckland and comes with a punishing workload.

READ MORE:
What $400,000 can get you in Tokoroa

In the past four months, Dr Kenny has not received a single application for the permanent position, which he believes is due to the perception of a rural general practitioner being a dead-end job.

The 61-year-old said $400,000 after expenses was more than double a GP's average income. But even the prospect of no weekend or night work had failed to attract a taker.

"Auckland has the biggest medical school and most kids who go to medical school come from wealthy families in the Auckland area," Dr Kenny said.

"If they recruited more students from rural areas, they might actually come here.

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"It's a huge problem to find replacements or find locums.

"Last year, I cancelled a holiday because I couldn't get a locum ... and this year I am probably going to have to cancel a holiday ... and it's just tough for me."

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The clinic's success had led to an increase in patients in the past two years and it now had 6000, but Dr Kenny said he could not keep up with the massive workload and was looking for a younger doctor to share or even take over his work.

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The upside of co-owning a successful practice was the "ridiculous income".

"I can offer them a really, really amazing income; it's incredible. My practice has exploded in the last year and the more patients you list, the more money you get. But it just gets too much at the end of the day.

"Just because I earn lots of money doesn't mean I want to work my butt off."

The town's median income is just $17,300 for people aged 15 and over and Tokoroa has some of the country's cheapest houses.

Yesterday, Dr Kenny saw 43 patients and said this surpassed the number recommended by the Royal College of GPs, which was 25.

He worked between 8.30am and 6pm without a lunch break. The position was advertised as being four days a week with 12 weeks' annual leave.

Dr Kenny, who has been a doctor in the town for 30 years and was recruited from the UK, said being a co-owner of Tokoroa Family Health offered a great lifestyle and he wouldn't swap it for Auckland's hustle and bustle or soaring house prices. He lived in Tokoroa for 13 years, but moved to Cambridge once his own children reached high school age so they had more schooling choices.

Most of the town's other doctors commute from Cambridge, Taupo or Rotorua.

Of the six doctors at the practice, Dr Kenny's daughter was the only New Zealander, as it was impossible to attract Kiwis.

"I love my work and I would like to stay but I hit my head against a brick wall trying to attract doctors.

"If it's hard enough to get doctors to work alongside me, it's going to be a devil of a job to get doctors to replace me."

A survey by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners in 2015 found 37 per cent of rural practices had a vacancy in 2014 compared with 42 per cent of urban practices, but that vacancies in rural practices took longer to fill.

Chief executive Helen Morgan-Banda argued that it was only slightly more difficult to attract GPs to rural areas.

However, they were more likely to be male, older, working longer hours and trained in South Africa or Britain.

"The feedback that we get from registrars and other young doctors who have worked in rural practice is that most of them have enjoyed the diversity of the practice and being part of the community, and would consider it a career option."

Tokoroa: Could you work and live there?

13,600 population
5th largest town in the Waikato region

Tokoroa Central:
720 people usually live there, 3.3% of South Waikato's population.
44 Median age
54.7% of people aged 15 and older have a formal qualification.
22% Unemployment rate for people aged 15 and over.
$17,300 Median income for people aged 15 and over.
- Source: Statistics NZ, 2013 Census

- NZ Herald

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