Dozens of immigrant doctors who have each paid up to $20,000 to be registered to work in New Zealand have been repeatedly refused jobs at "understaffed" hospitals.
Health Minister Andrew Little last week said he was very concerned about our country's exhausted health workers and was considering what could be done to build the workforce.
"They are under extraordinary pressure at the moment - not only having to deal with and adapt to responding to the Covid virus, but also, it is an understaffed system," Little said.
Yet Tanja Milovanovic is one of about 80 doctors eager to work, however, she's been told by half a dozen district health boards "there's no positions available".
"We are fully qualified, we are able to help and some of us can start as soon as tomorrow, especially with Covid we want to help," she said.
Milovanovic graduated as a doctor in Serbia before moving to New Zealand with her husband in 2012.
After giving birth to her three children she passed all assessments certifying her to work as a doctor in New Zealand in October last year. This included a two-hour theory exam, a comprehensive English test and four-hour clinical assessment at a hospital.
That process cost her between $10,000 to $20,000, she said.
Despite there being no guarantee of a job after becoming registered, Milovanovic said, they were constantly told there was a shortage of doctors and they would easily find a job.
However, that was not the case.
Milovanovic said in the last year she had applied for jobs in Auckland, New Plymouth, Gisborne, Tauranga, Rotorua, Wellington and Whangārei, and each time she received the same reply: "Unfortunately there are no job positions available at the moment."
"It's hugely frustrating, especially when all we are hearing is how understaffed and strained the health system is. I don't understand it."
She said she would work anywhere in New Zealand if she was offered a job.
"I don't mind waiting but we don't know for how long and there is no sign or hope that a position will come available anywhere in New Zealand because every year there is new graduates."
After five years her medical registration will expire and if she wanted to keep trying for a job she would have to complete the assessments all over again.
"Unfortunately some doctors' registration has already expired and they have already given up ... I don't think I would be able to do it all over again."
Milovanovic said considering how understaffed the health workforce was, there should be a clear pathway for immigrant doctors who were registered to be placed into a job.
"You see the news about how hospitals are desperate for more doctors but it's a different story when we are applying for jobs."
The health minister said his expectation was once overseas medical graduates had their qualifications recognised, DHBs or other health providers should take the opportunity to employ them to fill the current gaps.
When the Herald asked why this had not happened, Little said: "Questions about why DHBs haven't taken up these opportunities should be directed to them."
A Ministry of Health spokesman said priority was given to New Zealand government-funded medical graduates.
This left limited spots for international medical graduates, he said.
The spokesman said the number of New Zealand graduates had risen and increasing positions came down to the ability of the public health system to offer quality clinical placements and supervision.
The spokesman said there were very few vacancies available and increasing this number was not viable for DHBs as they did not have capacity to provide extra supervision.
"For this reason, establishing an alternative pathway for PGY1s is also not considered to be a feasible option."