Careers in health offer plenty of work opportunities at home and abroad.

Demand for skilled health professionals is rising after significant changes in the local health industry, says Jo Wallace, chief executive of healthcare recruitment agency Geneva Health New Zealand.

Wallace says skill shortages are showing up in midwifery, mental health, theatre and emergency medicine and, in some local areas, specialist aged care registered nurses.

"As the population ages and technological advances in medical care become more prevalent, the demand for skilled health professionals will continue to rise in the next 5 to 10 years," says Wallace. With such demand likely, she says a career in the health industry is an excellent choice for school leavers because it offers the chance to gain skills that can be transferred overseas and the opportunity to specialise.

Students can make the most of their training by seeking opportunities to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom. Wallace says one of the best things that student nurses, for example, can do is work as a caregiver or support worker in the community or a local private hospital.


"I'm a great advocate of seeking information from those more experienced in a particular area, and would always encourage student nurses to ask more experienced registered nurses as much as possible about their area of expertise. Furnishing yourself with as much theoretical knowledge and understanding goes a long way when you are in a clinical situation and you have to make a decision about how to care for someone," she says.

Wallace says there are two principal ways graduates can find jobs. One is to apply for a formal New Graduate programme within New Zealand with one of the district health boards. She says these programmes generally have good structure and supervision from experienced registered nurses.

"The other way might be to look for a new graduate programme overseas, Australia being the commonest and easiest way for new graduates to access structured programmes," she says. "Failing this, it is a matter of persistence and making contact with as many health employers as possible, demonstrating your passion for your profession and showing a willingness to work hard, be flexible and demonstrate high standards of nursing care."

After nurses and other health workers have gained several years experience in New Zealand, Wallace says they have "the world as their oyster", and cites her own career path as an example. "I was originally a registered nurse in the UK, wanted to travel, came and worked in New Zealand, became the manager of Mercy Hospital and now I'm the chief executive of an international healthcare services company."

Wallace says that if health professionals choose to continue working in New Zealand, the options can include development into a specialist clinical expert role, a teaching/education role, or a quality management position, all the way up to becoming a director of nursing for a DHB. Nurses can also work in universities, provide health information over the phone for pharmaceutical companies, work in medical retrieval (when people become seriously unwell while travelling) or even work on movie sets looking after the stars of stage and screen. "The options really are limitless," she says.

A registered nurse can gain overseas registration with just two years post-graduate experience.

There are some excellent senior positions in nursing management for those with more experience, Wallace says, particularly in the Middle East where a New Zealand nursing qualification and experience are highly regarded.

The most popular countries for health workers to travel to are Australia, the UK and the Middle East.

Australia's health system is the most similar to ours, jobs are generally better paid, it is close to home and it's easy to transfer health qualifications - there are no immigration issues with a New Zealand passport. The draw of London remains a popular destination for health workers. "Many of the London NHS [National Health Service] hospitals are seen as some of the most prestigious hospitals to work in from a career point of view," Wallace says. "Generally immigration is not a problem as many people have ancestry which allows them to work there or they can work on a holiday visa. The destination has become less popular since the implementation of the European Union, which has made professional registration more complex."

Wallace says the Middle East - United Arab Emirates, Saudi, Qatar - is an increasingly popular destination for health workers who can earn tax-free income and enjoy excellent working conditions and employment benefits, such as flights home each year, free accommodation and end of year bonuses. It offers an easy transfer to work through immigration, and generally easy professional registration requirements.