Figures confirm loss of junior doctors

By Amy Milne

A quarter of junior doctors are not practising in New Zealand by the third year of graduating, Medical Council of New Zealand figures show.

The findings are reported in the 2006 workforce survey by the Medical Council and present information on changes in the medical workforce and retention of doctors.

The findings support comments by former Southland District Health Board chief executive Nigel Murray who publicly acknowledged last year that graduates were leaving New Zealand because of higher pay deals offshore.

On average 81.9 per cent of New Zealand graduates are retained by the second year after graduation but it drops to 74.2 per cent by the third year, the report says.

However, there are no firm statistics on what medical graduates do if they do not register for their intern year in New Zealand.

“Initial drop in retention may possibly be caused by these graduates returning to their sponsoring countries. Others do their internship overseas, and some have the year off.” The Medical Council does not collect information about doctors no longer practising in New Zealand.

They may be practising overseas, or not practising at all. Some doctors leave New Zealand to gain post-graduate qualifications and then return some years later.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association described the number of students heading to Australia last year as an almost unprecedented exodus.

Of the 250 medical school graduates at the end of last year, 10 per cent went immediately to Australia before they even started work here, the association said.

There are 2500 junior doctors employed in New Zealand’s public hospitals.

About 400 resident doctors have permanently moved into locum work here or overseas in the past 18 to 24 months, the association said.

In New Zealand first-year junior doctor salaries for 40 to 45 hours start at $47,670. However most junior doctors work from 55 to 60 hours a week.

In Australia the average starting rate is about $52,000 for a first-year house officer and overtime is on a higher and variable rate.

Former Southlander Adam McLeay, who is an emergency department consultant in Queensland, said resident doctors typically worked a 38-hour week but were rostered for 40 base hours (an extra $5000 annually).

“So they automatically get two hours paid at double-time each week.” Doctors were also paid 25 per cent extra for late shifts (1pm to 11pm).

On Saturdays they were paid time-and-a-half and on Sundays they were paid double-time, he said.

Overtime was paid at time and a half for the first three hours and then double-time thereafter.

“At a guess, it is probably a rough average that an RMO (junior doctor) would add on another 30 per cent of their base, plus the two hours a week double time,” he said.

Dr McLeay said there were some things in the New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association contract that were better than Australia such as costs of training was covered, study leave was better and annual leave is more.

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