Lynley Bilby

Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Foreign doctors taking Kiwis' jobs

Miscalculation means UK recruits get Auckland posts ahead of locals

Dr Ben Harley at Waitakere Hospital. Photo / Doug Sherring
Dr Ben Harley at Waitakere Hospital. Photo / Doug Sherring

Nearly 100 graduates have missed out on jobs in Auckland hospitals because of a recruitment drive by northern health boards to attract foreign doctors.

Students graduating next month from Auckland University School of Medicine have had to take jobs in hospitals outside the city or look overseas, after health board recruiters travelled to Ireland and the United Kingdom this year and hired foreign doctors.

The national secretary of the Resident Doctors Association, Deborah Powell, said this meant a quarter of students faced the prospect of unemployment after finishing their university training.

"We had people arriving from the UK almost at the same time as people were being told they didn't have a job to go to."

The lack of jobs for young doctors reflects problems in highly-skilled occupations in New Zealand, the new Hay Global Skills Index indicates.

Because of the Christchurch rebuild, New Zealand has a shortage of construction, engineering and technology workers.

Yet it has one of the worst gluts of workers in high-skill occupations, such as medicine, of any of the 30 developed nations surveyed by the Hays recruitment firm.

This has been exacerbated by Health Workforce NZ getting forecasts wrong on how many graduates would seek jobs this year.

Health Workforce chairman Des Gorman said the problem came to light a fortnight ago, and was mainly caused by more young doctors remaining in New Zealand.

Whereas once, up to a quarter would go overseas for work experience, "we wouldn't be losing one in 20 now".

And because older graduates were not moving on to specialist in-house training schemes, the northern region health boards found themselves able to offer only 50 vacancies to new graduates, rather than the usual 140 places. The remaining 90 students were found jobs outside Auckland.

Gorman said there was no longer a doctor shortage, so health boards would be recruiting fewer foreign doctors in future.

"Things have changed dramatically. New Zealand is a very good place to train and practise medicine."

The dean of Auckland Medical School, Professor John Fraser, said he was concerned at the sudden cut to places for graduating students.

"We have always been able to assure our students that on graduation, they will find work to allow them to complete their postgraduate training."

Deborah Powell said the influx of foreign doctors had created an "unhelpful" situation, and a committee had been set up to make sure it didn't happen again.

Many of the foreign doctors employed this year were at a senior registrar level, which prevented junior doctors moving up through the hospital ranks and creating places for the newest graduates.


Southern shift

Auckland University Medical School final year student Ben Harley didn't think he'd have to leave the largest city in New Zealand to land his first job in a hospital.

The 27-year-old lives in Auckland with his partner and was expecting to move seamlessly from study to work without needing to shift. But with this year's sudden job shortage for first-year graduates, Harley has been forced to pack up his home and head south to Wanganui.

Although it wasn't his "top choice", he sees it as a good move for his medical career, offering the same or better professional development opportunities as a large metropolitan hospital.

The move to a regional hospital also offers a chance for Harley and his partner to save money and shrink their debt.

Eventually the plan is to return to Auckland but, in the meantime, Harley is determined to make the best of things.


How we compare

• Kiwis are better educated, enabling them to demand higher wages.

• The increased participation of 55- to 64-year-olds in the workforce is also pushing up wages.

• New Zealand has a serious shortage of workers in skilled industries like building and engineering, because of the Christchurch rebuild and the ultra-fast broadband roll-out.

• However, New Zealand has too many workers in high-skill occupations competing for jobs, keeping professional salaries relatively low and making it harder to find positions.

• Overall, there are more skilled workers to fill New Zealand jobs than last year, despite very low growth in New Zealand wages compared to other developed nations.

- Hays Global Skills Index 2013 analysed 30 developed nations.


Read also: Editorial: Suddenly a surplus of doctors

- Herald on Sunday

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