Otago academics propose resuscitation strategy for doctor shortage

Aotearoa New Zealand’s doctor shortage needs urgent attention, and a group of University of Otago researchers has a three-step resuscitation strategy.

In the editorial of today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, the group outlines how many New Zealand-trained doctors choose to leave for better renumeration, and those who stay are at risk of burnout due to unsustainable working conditions.

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Professor Roger Mulder

Co-author Professor Roger Mulder, of the Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch, says “significant investment” is needed into the future of the country’s medical workforce.

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

The group believes three strategies which would help retention are:

Better pay: fair pay – which takes into account the ongoing challenges and pressures associated with working in healthcare, such as high workload, on-call duties, and long hours – is a key determinant of retention.

Overseas recruitment: given the length of medical training in New Zealand, the short-term goal must be recruiting more doctors from overseas, and providing ongoing education to ensure they are fit to practice within our cultural context.

Local training: long-term, increased capacity to train New Zealand doctors is required, particularly those of Māori and Pacific descent, and those from rural backgrounds. Any increase in medical school places needs 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,” Professor Mulder says.

Publication details

The Aotearoa New Zealand doctor shortage: current context and strategies for retention

Eva G D Hitchon, Kate Eggleston, Roger T Mulder, Richard J Porter, Katie M Douglas

New Zealand Medical Journal (Vol 137, Issue 1592).

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