There is no getting away from it – salaries for specialist doctors and general practitioners in NZ compete poorly on the international market.
If you are thinking of relocating to New Zealand from Australia or the UK expect a pay cut of 30-50%. If you are coming from the US think 50-80% depending on your specialty.
With these salary gradients you would expect New Zealand to be experiencing a stampede of native doctors towards the nearest international terminal. Similarly, why would any doctor coming from overseas, in their right mind, decimate their earning potential like this?
And yet this is not what we see. Sure, New Zealand has its medical workforce challenges, but over the years these have been no worse than anywhere else in the developed world.
New Zealand does experience a high rate of loss of junior doctors to overseas countries but this is more a reflection of the irrepressible desire of Kiwi youth to see the world rather than dissatisfaction with work conditions. New Zealand also experiences a high return rate of its medical diaspora, who come home worldly-wise and primed with contemporary medical practices learned during their travels.
Placing doctors in New Zealand for nearly 20 years we have also seen how unperturbed most international candidates are by the salary differential when it comes to making the decision to move.
So why should this be? It certainly highlights one key and encouraging factor. Money is not everything. Of course, it is for a few, and in our experience they quickly remove themselves from the process once you tell them in plain figures what they will earn in New Zealand.
So what of the ones that remain interested – what are they attracted to?
New Zealand, as a place to live and work, has many subtle charms, some of which are more easily experienced than described. Here are a few to consider:
Lifestyle - For natural beauty and a relaxed pace of life New Zealand is hard to beat. Anyone living in a cold and wet, crowded city in the northern hemisphere would have to be die-hard patriot not to be tempted by the more comfortable lifestyle down under. One telling indicator that our candidates often remark upon is the reduction in commuting time to get to work, along the lines of, “It used to take me two hours in traffic to get to work – now it’s a five minute walk.”
Work Conditions - New Zealand has a modern, well-run, fair healthcare system and doctors are well looked after. The New Zealand medical workforce is well supported by proactive unions and work conditions are consistently good with well-regulated hours, leaving you more time to enjoy the lifestyle you came for.
Litigation - New Zealand enjoys one of the most sophisticated no-fault medical compensation systems in the developed world. As a result, indemnity insurance costs and rates of litigation are low and patients receive a quicker, fairer outcome. This helps with the hip pocket but also consider the countless hours of sleep you will gain.
Cost of Living - Whilst salaries are lower than elsewhere in the developed world so is the cost of living. Taxation is not onerous and many things that are now very expensive in Europe and North America are surprisingly affordable in New Zealand. Notably, of the thousands of doctors that we have placed in New Zealand over the years we have never had any come back to us to say, “I simply can’t afford to live here.”
Kiwis - They are just jolly nice people - a pleasure to work with and live amongst.
So, defying economic logic, New Zealand seems to compete favourably with the rest of the world when it comes to attracting and retaining medical talent, using all its gentle charms to woo doctors.
In some ways the focus on non-financial benefits over financial may work in its favour when it comes to building a positive culture in its medical workforce. New Zealand gets to hire all the doctors that want to practice good medicine, enjoy life and sleep well at night. The rest of the world gets to keep the others.
Dr. John Bethell
Director, Wavelength International
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