Despite offering a hefty salary of $358,000, a small New Zealand community is having trouble finding a second doctor to treat its residents.
Dr. Alan Kenny is burnt out. Overwhelmed by the number of patients he treats in the small town of Tokoroa, a community of 13,600 located in North Island – the equivalent of the population of Mont-Laurier – this general practitioner has been looking for an assistant for two years now.
The working conditions are certainly superior to most offers: a salary of $358,000 per year, three months of paid vacation and weekends and evenings off. As a bonus, Dr. Kenny is willing to offer half the shares of his medical practice to the successful candidate.
Nevertheless, for two years, only passing foreign doctors have come to lend a helping hand to Dr. Kenny. So much so that he must frequently work on his days off and cancel vacations to meet growing demands.
“My practice has exploded over the past year,” he told The New Zealand Herald. “I love my job but even if I make a lot of money, it becomes too hard for me.”
Since it was published in the land of the kiwis, this story has blown up around the world. Result? Resumes have flocked in from all over the planet. You may be thinking that this is his opportunity to get the help he so desperately needs, but not quite. In fact, the media coverage surrounding this case has only caused Dr. Kenny to have to work overtime responding to calls and emails. And almost all of the applications received have gone straight to the garbage, usually either because the candidates did not speak English, or had no medical training.
“If a serious candidate emerges from this horrible experience, I will be really surprised,” he told The Guardian.
The hazards of isolation
This is where the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot. With New Zealand offering some of the most breathtaking views in the world, why are qualified doctors shunning Tokoroa? According to Linda Reynolds, the vice-president of the rural doctors’ network in New Zealand, the community is victim of its own isolation. Educational and social infrastructures are deficient, and telephone networks are very bad.
This unfortunate situation is reminiscent of the Quebec film La Grande seduction, directed by Ken Scott. The 2003 comedy looked at the residents of an isolated coastal village – fictitiously named Sainte-Marie-la-Mauderne – who were trying by all means to ensure that the new physician who had just come in from “the big city” would stick around for more than a month.
Beyond fiction, attracting doctors to remote communities is just as much a problem in New Zealand as it is in Quebec. In order to be more efficient in distributing talent across Quebec, the Ministry of Health and Social Services has set up a system of incentives that has improved the situation in several regions. The doctors who settle in remote communities benefit from various advantages such a salary increase of up to 145%, tax deductions, paid time off and installation and maintenance premiums, among others.