Come and work in New Zealand – money hungry doctors need not apply

4 minutes read time Categories: Medical Career, Regulatory & Migration 23/11/2011

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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  • Jennifer Cornell 23/11/2011 3:26pm (7 years ago)

    I worked in New Zealand first as a locum and then signed on full time and spent 5 years there. Loved it. Great life style, great people, amazing beauty. It is also the fairest system I have ever worked in. Everyone has access to care. There is private health care but they are all the same doctors usually. No seperation of those who have and those who do not. It did take me a while to adapt from the US but loved it once I got used to the system. Miss the fairness of it now that I am in Australia. And no I did not move to Australia for higher salary but for personal reasons. Give New Zealand a try, it is amazing.

  • jbethell66 23/11/2011 10:27pm (7 years ago)

    Thanks Jennifer. Your story is a great example of my point. I would be curious to know if you had any hesitation when you saw the salaries on offer after working in the US, or if going as a locum first helped you with the mental transition.

    We often find that the first conversation when we say (particularly to US based doctors) "you will be earning X..." is punctuated by a sharp intake of breath. Some are up for it but some bail at that point.

    I often wonder if the latter group might not reconsider, if they had a chance to experience working in NZ on a more casual basis at first.

  • Brad Chittenden 02/03/2012 7:24pm (7 years ago)

    I beg to differ on the salary front. I'm taking up a post in New Zealand as a consultant and compared to the UK my salary will be about 30% higher. UK consultants have had a pay freeze for 3 years and face a doubling of their pension contributions. Most UK consultants now only get offered a 10 session week which amounts to a wage of £75 000 - poorly competitive by world standards.

  • Mutha 04/11/2012 9:40am (6 years ago)

    Yes I entirely agree.....!

  • awlemaire 09/04/2013 9:48am (6 years ago)

    I spent twice 6 months in NZ in Whangarei in the North Island as a locums and we (my wife and I) had a great time both professionally and socially. While the pay was not great, the practice, lifestyle and low cost of living made up for that manyfold.

    I have a chapter (eleven) about New Zealand in my book "CROSSCULTURAL DOCTORING. ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH. One can download it for free from Smashwords at this link:
    If that link does not work just Google CROSSCULTURAL DOCTORING. Scroll down and select the format best for you. And while you are at it, might aswell read chapter ten about our experiences in Australia.

  • Jennifer 24/09/2014 3:44am (5 years ago)

    I don't think anyone will ever understand or care to understand WHY salary is SO important for a doctor. Thank about this for one moment if you will. We only have so much time before retiring. We want to do good but paper pushers talk us down on our well earned salaries and then we retire with almost nothing to show for our efforts.

    If the paper pushers / New Zealand et al, cared for doctors and finding good ones with REAL life experience who could diagnose well they would and should pay a premium for doctor. If a football player can sit at home for beating his wife and get paid $700,00/week find the money to pay a doctor who had sacrificed 4 years undergraduate, 4 years medical, 3-6 years residency!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ANY DOCTOR here who sells themselves out for the petty little bit of money thrown at them by New Zealand is selling themselves very short!!!! If a registered Nurse can make an easy $70,000/ year now and a nurse with an extra 2 years of school (practitioner) can make $110,00-$130,000/year with a FRACTION of the education a doctor has how in Gods name can anyone agree to be paid so little by a country who baits you in with the lifestyle. Hell with me the money so that I can feel that I sacraficed my life in education to at the least be reinbused.

    Enough. I simply hate paper pushers who's salaries are usually if not always higher than doctors salaries. They think it is funny and it really is that their little education offers them an exceptional salary so they can take it away from the doctors.

    Doctors need to unite but I am certain this will never happen with insurance controling doctors every move and reimbursement, and STUPID paper pushers who have no concern for doctors well being.

    Basically don't get caught up in lifestyle and move to New Zealand for this. Find a place who will pay a doctor, THEN go and retire in New Zealand if they are not going to pay their doctors........outragous.

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Bethell, John

Blog Authors

John Bethell

Dr John Bethell graduated from Aberdeen Medical School in 1990 and worked as a doctor in both the UK and Australia, launching Wavelength with co-founder Claire Ponsford in 1999. As a pioneer and market leader of medical recruitment in Australia Dr Bethell has seen the industry grow and mature. After two decades of helping doctors find work and healthcare employers find doctors, he sees the medical workforce world from a unique perspective.

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