There are plenty of reasons physicians pack their bags and head overseas to practice medicine. Some have charity at heart, rushing to aid the earthquake victims of Haiti, for example, or to Third World countries where doctors and modern medicine are desperately needed. Others are seeking thrills or experience on a locum tenens basis, an opportunity to travel and work in other locations or with people from other cultures.
Many physicians looking for a chance to practice in an international environment generally head for one of two locations: Australia or New Zealand. Both countries welcome American-trained physicians, and both offer a rich, culturally diverse environment with a common language and a familiar healthcare system.
That’s not to say other practice opportunities don’t exist, however. Amy Griffin, director of the international division of recruiting firm VISTA Staffing Solutions, currently places physicians in Bermuda, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, with plans for expansion.
Recently, the United Arab Emirates—especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi—also has opened its doors to American physicians. There, new hospitals are being built at a rapid pace, says Steve Frank, a senior search consultant for the Missouri-based recruiting firm Enterprise Medical Services. “Some adventurous American physicians decide to go there, looking for a challenge,” he says. For the most part, though, physicians immigrating to the Middle East are originally from that part of the world and are heading back to be close to family.
In New Zealand, however, International Medical Graduates (IMGs for short) are increasingly becoming the norm. Ian Powell, executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, recently told a reporter on New Zealand’s TV One that more than 40 percent of New Zealand’s specialist physicians are IMGs.
A 2008 article in the Medical Journal of Australia reports that the IMG population there is steadily increasing, comprising at least 25 percent of that nation’s general practice work force.
There’s no doubt physicians are needed in both countries, says Saralynn White of the Utah-based recruiting firm Global Medical Staffing. “But there is a worldwide doctor shortage, especially in underserved areas,” she adds.
That’s as true for the United States as for foreign locales, however, so what prompts a physician to look abroad for work?
Why work abroad?
For David Rideout, M.D., a thoracic surgeon from Maine, his decision to practice abroad for a year came from a combination of factors—but burnout figured high on the list.
“I was working in the hospital 110 hours a week; I was on call every other day,” he says. And pay was decreasing. “The year before I left, my business had increased by 25 percent, but I was making 10 percent less.” At that point, he says, he was ready to leave medicine. Instead, he sold most of what he owned and signed up for a year-long locum tenens position in New Zealand.
Kathy Starkey, M.D., a New York obstetrician-gynecologist, says she wasn’t “burned out” from her private practice. “I still enjoy what I’m doing,” she says, but the long days were taking a toll on her personal life. “I was ready for a change of pace to get my life back on track.” Starkey loves to travel and began working abroad in 2007. So far, she has worked in the Cayman Islands, Australia and New Zealand.
Like Starkey, Jennifer Rozum, M.D., a California emergency medicine physician, enjoys travel. And like Rideout, she had become increasingly dissatisfied with the U.S. health system—on a number of levels. “I still love medicine, but not the practice of medicine,” she explains. She’s currently working in New Zealand.