Working in New Zealand as a GP – Q&A

Working in New Zealand as a GP – Q&A

Living and working as a GP in New Zealand offers many benefits to those doctors who decide to make the move – the challenge of a different healthcare system, the opportunity to explore a new country, an improved work/life balance, and more. One of our previously placed doctors, Lisa Hall, spoke with our NZ Recruitment specialist Debbie Kirk about the process of relocating abroad... 

What prompted you to contact Head Medical and enquire about making the move to New Zealand?

For many years we had hoped to work abroad for a period of time once our children were settled at university. I attended the BMA Careers Conference in London as a way of stimulating ideas for change. I met members of the Head Medical team there, and was impressed with their set up.

It is possible to obtain a 12-month work visa for NZ. This suited us better than the options of 2 years for Australia and Canada.

I followed this up by attending the Head Medical Making the Move event in London a few weeks later and signed up after that.


How beneficial was working with Head Medical with regard to finding the right position, arranging all registration / immigration paperwork, and also getting you out to New Zealand?

The entire process was made so easy for me. It was a personalised service, and communication by email and phone was efficient

The paperwork required for the visa application and NZNC application was prepared well in advance, with clear instructions as to what I needed. Although it would have been possible to organise this for myself, it was very much quicker and easier through Head Medical, with the knowledge that they were so familiar with the process.

Setting up the Skype interviews was easy, and this would have been much more complex if organised independently.


How did you find organising your belongings / family / pets for the big move? Anything you would have done different.

Forward planning is key to making the move easier. We did not find the process too difficult overall.

My advice is to limit the amount of clothes and kit which you transport out, and to remember that NZ has a casual dress code!

We sent most of our belongings by sea freight, but this takes many weeks and delivery date is not guaranteed. Last minute things can be sent by air freight, which is much quicker, and has a more guaranteed delivery time, but is obviously more expensive.

Living costs in NZ are generally higher than in the UK, and shopping is expensive, without the range of cheap clothing stores which we have at home. I would recommend bringing out things like tramping boots and technical outdoor kit, as this is surprisingly expensive in NZ.


How have you found working in New Zealand in comparison to working in your previous countries healthcare system? Was it an easy transition to make?

Clearly there are concerns about learning a new system, new computer skills, different prescribing and formularies, and learning new practical skills. Overall I would say that I have found the transition very manageable.

I had an induction week within the practice, and ongoing mentoring sessions with a GP colleague. I can determine the frequency and duration of these sessions. So there is protected time to learn new systems and seek help, and this has been very useful. I have found all the surgery team to be incredibly helpful and supportive. They are accustomed to having a multi-national work force.

Appointment duration is 15 minutes, and there are slots during the day for paperwork and for a tea break, with a clear time allowance for lunch. A working lunch is not the expectation here. There is a positive focus within the practice of providing a good patient experience, with same/ next day appointments, and the expectation that scripts and paperwork will be done on the same day.  

Preparing for the differences in health care systems, patient expectations, a limited drug formulary, and the ACC (accident compensation scheme) cannot be done in advance but can be learned quickly on the job.

I would recommend that you examine closely what sort of procedures your prospective practice carries out, as you are likely to find that there is more minor surgery done here in NZ. We also do basic fracture management and more minor injury management than in the UK. There are no minor injury units here, just A+E departments. You are unlikely to have to offer minor surgery skills if you do not feel comfortable with this, but it is an opportunity to do more than in the UK if you wish, so do just enquire about it at interview.

An evening and weekend on-call rota is the norm here, which of course is the downside of working in NZ. But this is done from surgery and it is rare to do home visits at the weekend. Patients who cannot attend surgery go to A+E, with the exceptions of terminal care and nursing homes.

The holiday allowance is also small here, with 4 weeks per year for full time equivalent being the norm. I was concerned about this, as clearly wanted the opportunity to travel and see as much of NZ as possible. Selecting your location carefully is important. Taupo is in the centre of the north island, so we can travel fairly easily to many places even for the weekend. You may be able to negotiate more annual leave.


How have you and your family settled into the practice and the wider community? Is there anything that you can suggest to others GPs who are heading out to New Zealand?

We have found NZ folk to be very friendly and settling in has not been difficult. Say yes to all invitations if possible! Also, join a local club if possible, e.g. cycling, and sailing.

The culture is very much one of outdoor activity, sport and leisure. We are keen road cyclists, and have also taken up mountain biking, and enjoyed tramping, sailing, freefall parachuting (for my mad husband!), swimming in the lake, and more.

The roads are quiet here and travelling around is just so much easier than in the UK, even on a Friday after work!

We have found the move very refreshing in terms of having less clutter, and responsibilities such as house, garden and pets, and therefore having more quality leisure time.

The work/life balance is great here, even with the additional burden of an on-call rota.


Is there anything you would like to have done differently?

Truly, I would not have changed anything significantly.


What has been the highlight so far in New Zealand?

The sense of adventure and freedom to travel and explore has been my highlight. I am enjoying the opportunity for change, and the chance to reflect on my work/life balance in the UK and perhaps how this can be improved.

Favourite things include – weekends of adventure and activity outdoors, learning to mountain bike, picking fruit from the garden, the daily view of Lake Taupo and Ruapehu volcano, swapping my 25-mile traffic-laden work commute for a 4km cycle, spending Christmas Day on the beach, white water rafting on Tongariro river, wobbling around the Napier vineyards on our bikes, listening to the dawn chorus of Tui birds every day...and many more.

Less favourite things include – missing my family and friends, lack of choice of TV and radio programmes, limited choice and more expensive supermarket produce, applying for special authority drugs, and high patient expectation for antibiotic scripts.


To find out more about living and working as a GP in New Zealand, contact Debbie Kirk on +44 (0)131 240 5279 or email

Find out more about living and working in New Zealand with our handy guide for GPs (opens in new window).

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