When we decided to move to New Zealand at no point did I think this would be a hindering factor on my ability to continue practising medicine.
I was moving to another English-speaking country, I had graduated from a world class university and I was a doctor with 14 years’ experience in general practice.
I know of many colleagues that have gone to Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and USA and, aside from the fact that exams have become compulsory for South African doctors, once those exams were done you had a position and could continue working.
So I prepared to sit the exams – and this is when I started coming across disturbing stories about international medical graduates having difficulties in finding positions once they had passed all the necessary exams.
New Zealand does have recruiting programmes where they recruit and register international doctors from approved countries; unfortunately South Africa is not on that list. Then I read about articles where there is a huge GP shortage in NZ, and I’m sitting at home thinking to myself, I’m a GP with 14 years experience I could most definitely help towards that shortage.
Let me outline what needs to be done before you are even eligible to apply for the internship post required to gain New Zealand medical registration (as a South African-trained doctor or a doctor from another country that the Medical Council of New Zealand requires to follow the NZREX registration pathway) :
- Firstly you have to meet all the requirements to sit the Medical Council’s NZREX Clinical examination which are:
- Holding a valid medical degree
- The ability to speak English (you have to be able to prove this so often requires an academic English exam)
- Then you need to pass one of three academic medical papers (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test Part 1, Australian Medical Council MCQ or the United States Medical Licensing examination USMLE 1 and 2).
- I can only speak for the Australian medical council paper as this is the one that I sat in February 2018, but this process cost me $4000 and luckily I didn’t have to pay for flights and visas.
- Then it is onto applying to the Medical Council to sit the NZREX, and this exam costs a further $4000
- But the exam is only held three times a year and is limited to a maximum of 28 people per examination.
- So despite passing my Australian Medical Council examination in February 2018 I have to wait until March 2019 to sit this exam.
- By now I’ve paid over $8 000 for examinations but then the real challenge starts, the final step to be eligible for NZ registration is that I have to try and get a PGY1 post.
Last barrier the biggest – getting an internship post
A PGY1 post is the equivalent of an internship position (house surgeon/junior doctor) that medical students go straight on to after graduating from medical school.
But there’s a catch, I cannot get a PGY1 post as there are 400 positions available a year and these positions are filled via the ACE matching system which is available to New Zealand and Australian graduating doctors only.
However if a position does happen to open up during the year (someone drops out or becomes ill) you can apply for a post but again you will be competing with New Zealand and Australian medical graduates.
It is a long road and not for the faint-hearted, I have spoken to a few doctors who have passed all the necessary examinations and are yet to find one that has got a PGY1 post.
Most have been trying for more than five years and their exams have now expired and they would have to repeat the process again. Needless to say they have used their medical knowledge to start careers in other areas and are no longer at the forefront of treating patients.
Suggestions to Medical Council
For a process that is going to be costly – both emotionally and financially – I would like some sort of assurance that I would have the ability to practice again.
So I have a few suggestions as to what the Medical Council could do:
- If the Medical Council does not need international medical graduates from the countries not on the approved list they should cancel all NZREX exams. As the examinations are costly and give people a false sense of hope that they will be able to practice in New Zealand
- If they do want graduates from countries not on that approved list then to have a fair chance for these graduates to work here some the following solutions could be considered:
- For those graduates who have not completed an internship or have less than four years experience, they must complete a PGY1 position, but of the 400 allocated to only Australian and New Zealand medical graduates, allocate 15 a year to NZREX graduates
- You can also allocate these NZREX graduates to rural areas
- For graduates with more than four years experience instead of making them work as interns, rather make it compulsory that they work for two years in rural parts of New Zealand where the community is under serviced
- If the problem is that the healthcare system is different in terms of administration then run a course where the healthcare system can be learnt, you have a group of highly intelligently people who have shown their commitment to working in New Zealand, and learning a new healthcare system would not take a long time.
I hope that after all of this I will be able to practice medicine again, it is something that I am deeply passionate about, and although this has been and will continue to be a rather challenging time, it has given me a deep appreciation of the career I chose when I was 17 years old.
Claire Terblanche is a South African-trained GP who moved to New Zealand late last year and is booked to sit the Medical Council’s NZREX Clinical exam in March 2019.