Overseas doctors face problems in New Zealand

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 16 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1594

Foreign doctors in New Zealand are lobbying for change to the country's medical examination process, which they claim is the cause of some overseas doctors being unable to work once they reach New Zealand. More than 200 foreign doctors are currently unemployed in New Zealand because they have not passed the necessary registration examinations to practise. Members of the newly formed Overseas Doctors' Association claim that they were misled by immigration authorities when applying to emigrate to New Zealand.

Dr Ghaleb Jaber, a founder member of the association, told its inaugural conference: “Overseas trained doctors migrated to New Zealand in the last few years through an immigration policy whereby their professional medical qualification and experience was included in the criteria for allotment of immigration status. We wanted to perform the jobs that we had been trained for. Alas, the obstacles are so many that we end up doing nothing even remotely resembling that.” The foreign doctors claim that it is not until their arrival in New Zealand that many of them learn that they have to pass examinations, held twice yearly, in English and clinical medicine before they can start work.

Only those doctors who trained at universities considered to be equivalent to New Zealand's are automatically registered. This covers doctors in Australia, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, and South Africa. Legislation due to be passed early next year, however, will see this situation tightened, with only Australian graduates being granted similar status to doctors who have trained in New Zealand.

This year 74% of foreign doctors passed the first part of the registration examination, English. But only 21% passed the written examination, which the Medical Council says is the equivalent of the fifth year medical school qualifying examination. The Medical Council is now suggesting that extra help should be given to doctors preparing for the examination.

But even if overseas doctors pass through the tough registration procedures, however, they face more hurdles if they want to work in general practice. Funding authorities have refused to issue the usual patient subsidies in primary care to foreign doctors starting work in regions that the authorities claim are already oversupplied with doctors. General practitioners and locum agencies disagree with this claim. As the holiday season is about to begin, there is no longer a supply of foreign trained locum doctors.--CARMEL WILLIAMS, New Zealand Doctor

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