A group of overseas-trained doctors are consulting a lawyer as they are unable to get jobs in New Zealand, with many working in fast food outlets or driving taxis.

A complaint has also been made to the Human Rights Commission.

The group of about 60 foreign trained doctors, many of them New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, say it is unfair that they are being passed over for jobs in favour of New Zealand medical graduates.

But health experts say the hospital system is full with New Zealand graduates who are prioritised through financial incentives because they have trained locally.


One junior doctor, who emigrated with his parents to New Zealand at age 12 and studied pre-med at Otago University before completing training overseas, said many of the group had been trying to get jobs for two years.

He left New Zealand because Otago Medical School only took 120 students from 2000 applicants, he said.

In June, the doctor, who did not want to be named, passed the $3947 New Zealand Registration Examination (NZREX), which is for doctors trained overseas, but cannot get a first year placement at any hospital in the country.

He knew of up to 60 overseas trained doctors who had passed the NZREX clinical exam but many of whom were now working in fast food outlets or driving taxis.

One of the doctors complained to the Human Rights Commission last month and the group was talking to a lawyer.

But the doctor said the group just wanted to work.

"We're not trying to accuse the DHBs or point fingers at anybody. We see eight-hour waiting times at Middlemore Hospital... We all just want to help."

The commission confirmed it had received the complaint, as well as three others from overseas-trained doctors since 2012 and one from the Auckland Regional Migrant Services Charitable Trust in 2014.

Since September 2012, the Medical Council of New Zealand has offered the NZREX exam 18 times up to July this year.

Data for those exams excluding July, showed of the 451 candidates who sat the exam, 228 passed and 128 gained provisional registration through getting a job.

The placements dropped dramatically with only nine getting a job out of 63 doctors who passed the exam since May last year.

The NZREX preparation programme began in 2011, developed by Health Workforce New Zealand, in an effort to get more overseas trained doctors into jobs.

At the same time NZREX doctors were removed from a DHB-run scheme called Advanced Choice of Employment (ACE), where Kiwis who graduate from New Zealand medical schools get job priority.

Resident Doctors Association national secretary Deborah Powell said there simply was not enough jobs.

Powell said the one-year provisional junior doctor roles were filled each year by New Zealand's 400-plus medical school graduates and a further 180 were open to second year resident doctors.

The first-year grads worked under strict supervisory conditions and not in emergency departments or other high-pressure environments, she said.

"There is a genuine capacity issue. We are full this year and we will be full for the next two years."

Medical Council chairman Andrew Connolly said there was no clinical education funding attached to NZREX doctors as with first year New Zealand graduates.

"Essentially the DHBs have a financial incentive to only employ young doctors who are attracting funding."

The situation needed addressing, Connolly said, and the Medical Council was considering ways to get the doctors into jobs.

This included through speciality fields such as general practice, and a small number of NZREX doctors had successfully gone down this path, he said.

The council would now look into widening the scope for where NZREX doctors could work in their first year, which is largely confined to a hospital setting.

That included investigating whether requirements could be relaxed.

Health Workforce New Zealand group manager Claire Austin said 43 per cent of New Zealand's medical workforce were international medical graduates (IMG).

"The decision to employ an IMG is up to the individual employer, based on the skills and experience required and the type of vacancy or contract they want to fill."

In a letter on the issue last November, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said he was not aware of any intention to include international graduates in ACE or to establish a separate ACE programme specifically for NZREX doctors.