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Medical workforce issues need attention - NZMA

Release NZ Medical Association

More should be done to ensure that women doctors are able to fulfil their potential, says New Zealand Medical Association Chairman Dr Pippa MacKay.

A paper in the March 24 edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal (attached) suggests that career opportunities for women doctors may have worsened over the last decade because of changes including the health reforms, the Employment Contracts Act and higher student fees.

"Women doctors, particularly those who wish to enter a clinical specialty, are having to juggle job, training and family commitments. They may end up having to limit their career options," Dr MacKay said.

"This paper raises very important issues, and highlights ways that the situation can be improved. The NZMA supports initiatives which will allow women doctors to improve their career opportunities."

Given the low rates of specialisation for women doctors, the paper said New Zealand's medical schools can supply only about half the specialists that are needed. Already, many hospitals are having to take medical graduates from outside New Zealand to fill some of the clinical registrar positions.

"Medical students now must pay more than $9000 a year in fees alone. Many are graduating with debts the size of a mortgage and are going to Australia where they can earn a lot more money," Dr MacKay said. "This does not make sense economically for New Zealand, because thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money has gone into their education.

"We are pleased that the Government has eased interest rate requirements for students, but this will not lower the total amount borrowed."

High debt levels are also affecting which specialties doctors choose. Lower-paid specialties, such as general practice, psychiatry and geriatrics, are becoming less favoured.

"On top of this, GPs are finding it increasingly difficult to get locums, to enable them to study, attend conferences, and even take holidays. The locum shortage, once only a problem in rural areas, is now evident in the cities."

The NZMA is pleased that the Government has signalled that workforce development will be treated as a priority. "We look forward to a joint approach to finding solutions to these problems," Dr MacKay said.

A survey last year of the intentions of 6th year Otago medical students found that 30 percent said they were considering moving overseas as soon as they finished their training, while only one third said they were committed to working in New Zealand long-term.


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