A Government agency is trialling a programme to pay trainee doctors a full salary while they gain experience overseas.
The Health Workforce New Zealand scheme will pay advanced medical trainees for five years, including for up to two years while they work overseas. There is an expectation that they would come back to New Zealand to work.
Training and retaining workers is a continuing problem in the health sector, with many of New Zealand doctors and nurses heading to Australia and beyond.
Health Workforce New Zealand chair Des Gorman says trying to compete on a salary basis with Australia does not make sense.
Professor Gorman says it is time to take the overseas experience and change it from a threat to an opportunity.
He says this approach is much cheaper than trying to recruit overseas doctors.
Professor Gorman says the programme will start with advanced medical trainees, but may be expanded to include nursing, midwifery and other areas as well.
He says the message to all employers is that they will have to get involved in career planning and start thinking about long-term succession planning.
Union reaction mixed
The health sector has identified a range of health workforce development issues: some that already exist and others that are forecast for the future.
The union representing senior doctors says the plan ignores New Zealand's low rates of pay for health workers.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive assistance director Angela Belich says it is good to have doctors feeling supported by the New Zealand system when they go overseas.
"Nevertheless when people are in Australia, for instance, they will be looking at what people that they're working with are getting in salary and they will notice the huge difference.
"It's conservatively estimated at about 35%, and not so conservatively estimated at something around 45% or more."
She says that is a big gap to be bridged by feelings of loyalty.
The Government established Health Workforce New Zealand (the Clinical Training Agency Board) to address workforce issues in the health sector.