New Zealand must look at other ways to attract international nurses as we can't match overseas salaries - recruiter

  • 10/06/2022

Sharon Brettkelly for RNZ

New Zealand isn't the only country facing a shortage of nurses - can we compete when it comes to recruiting health staff from overseas?

When a teenage gunman shot dead 19 children and two adults at a school in Texas last month, Christchurch health workforce recruiter Prudence Thomson was inundated with calls from the United States. 

"It was pretty sad, I said to one of my recruiters, 'here we go, we're going to get some interest from the US' and sure enough we had some GPs, surgeons, nurses. It was just bing, bing, bing, 'hi I'm from the US'." 

The recruitment process begins with a chat and sending through a CV. 

"We ask what their motivation is to come to New Zealand. They say they want their kids to go to a school where they don't have active shooting drills and they don't have gun detectors on the door and I say, 'well, we would love to have you in New Zealand'." 

Most of those initial approaches go nowhere, says Thomson, the founder of Accent Health Recruitment, one of a handful of agencies in New Zealand specialising in hiring medical staff from offshore. She often gets a flurry of emails from countries where tragedies or disasters have happened. 

"It's a kneejerk reaction." 

Thomson's workload has soared as the workforce shortage grows and competition for internationally qualified nurses (IQNs) intensifies. New Zealand can't match other countries, like Australia, on salaries, but money isn't always the main drawcard, she says. 

"I don't think I've had one nurse who's said they want to come here to earn a lot of money. They would go to the Middle East." 

But the process isn't helped by district health boards offering prospective employees different deals. For example, about half the nurses brought in from overseas don't have their flights paid for. Thomson hopes this will be streamlined under the new centralised health authority, Health NZ, so that all recruits are at least offered free flights and four weeks' accommodation. 

Thomson is getting ready for a recruitment drive in Singapore where she will interview about 200 nurses, tell them about the culture of Aotearoa, and the relocation and registration process. 

She explains what happens when the nurses arrive and the wraparound support they get, from welcome gifts of peanut slabs to help organising bank accounts.  

The Detail also talks to Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels about the urgent need for homegrown nurses, how to keep senior staff and offer potential recruits a wider range of opportunities to join the workforce.