23 February 2009

The voluntary bonding scheme announced by the Government today will help retain the next generation of doctors, and other vital health workers, in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Medical Association has long advocated for such a scheme, as one important part of a workforce package, which is needed to encourage New Zealand-trained doctors to stay and work here rather than head overseas.

"This scheme provides a substantial incentive for graduate doctors to work in medical specialties and regional areas which are facing staff shortages in exchange for reducing their student debt – it’s a win-win situation for both doctors and New Zealand," said NZMA Chair Dr Peter Foley.

"We commend Health Minister Tony Ryall for acknowledging the crucial link between student debt and workforce shortages, and introducing this scheme so quickly after taking office. We are also impressed with the flexibility and genuine base of respect and trust which underpins this innovative scheme."

The scheme will allow for up to 100 doctors per year to take part, which is 27% of current graduates. This large scale approach is enough to make a real difference to the workforce.

"The NZMA will strongly support the scheme, and we look forward to continuing to contribute to the ongoing development of this programme."

Dr Foley said research showed that medical students graduate with debts averaging $80,000. Many are tempted to work overseas, particularly in Australia, where salaries are higher.

"We needed to find ways to encourage these doctors to stay and work in New Zealand, rather than having to rely on the uncertainty of recruiting doctors from overseas to fill shortages. This is an important step in that direction.

"Doctors make a huge contribution to the health of New Zealanders, and we need to ensure that sufficient doctors are trained, recruited and retained in New Zealand. There is a global market for health professionals, with many countries able to pay significantly higher salaries than us. Ultimately, the New Zealand medical workforce needs to become self-sufficient," Dr Foley concluded.