Plan to address doctor shortage offered

A new, three-step resuscitation strategy has been proposed by University of Otago academics to help fix the nationwide shortage of doctors.

The group outlined how many New Zealand-trained doctors chose to leave for better remuneration, and said those who stayed were at risk of burnout because of the unsustainable working conditions.

In an editorial in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, co-author and University of Otago (Christchurch) psychological medicine professor Roger Mulder said "significant investment" into the future of the country’s medical workforce was needed.

"We need to train more, retain more and recruit more to work our way out of this problem."

The group believed there were three strategies which would help — better pay, overseas recruitment and local training.

He said fair pay, which took into account the ongoing challenges and pressures associated with working in healthcare, such as high workload, on-call duties, and long hours, was a key determinant of retention.

Also, given the length of medical training in New Zealand, the short-term goal had to be recruitment of more doctors from overseas, and providing ongoing education to ensure they were fit to practice within New Zealand’s cultural context.

Prof Mulder said long-term, increased capacity to train New Zealand doctors was also required, particularly those of Māori and Pacific descent, and those from rural backgrounds.

And any increase in medical school places needed to be matched by an increase in the number of postgraduate clinical placements and vocational training posts.

"The doctor shortage in New Zealand needs urgent attention.

"However, existing evidence suggests that issues around retention are a systemic problem with no simple solution.

"We need to train more doctors, as well as attract doctors from overseas amidst a global medical worker shortage.

"In addition, we need to try and ensure these doctors are appropriately supported and remunerated and have a working environment that is safe and sustainable," he said.