F3 in New Zealand: Ed Matthews
Continuing our 'F3 in New Zealand' interview series, we were recently fortunate enough to speak with Ed Matthews, an F3 doctor who is currently working at Grey Base Hospital in Greymouth, New Zealand.
We caught up with Ed about the process he followed leading up to the move, how he's found adjusting to life in New Zealand so far, and the key differences between working in New Zealand compared to the UK.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background and your current role?
I grew up in Croydon, went to medical school in Oxford, then did my F1 and F2 in North West London. I enjoyed foundation training and living in London, but I knew that I wanted to live abroad before settling into specialty training.
When did you move out to New Zealand, and where are you based?
My wife Holly and I worked briefly in Papua New Guinea before moving to Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand in January 2020. We have been here just over six months now. I'm working at Grey Base Hospital in a town called Greymouth on the South Island. We're currently in the process of moving into a brand-new hospital next door, which will be called Te Nikau Hospital.
Why did you decide to move over there?
I had always wanted to take a year out of training after Foundation Year 2, and I've always respected doctors who have worked in a variety of situations and have a broader base of experience from which to draw. My wife, who is also a doctor, was born in Auckland, so New Zealand was a natural choice.
We both love exploring the outdoors and New Zealand is one of the best countries in which to do so. There's a huge variety of wilderness to experience in a relatively small area of land. Because it's an English-speaking country with a comparable healthcare system, it's quite easy to integrate into.
How did you apply?
We applied through the centralised annual application system for New Zealand doctors.
If you're going through the centralised annual recruitment cycle, you’ll need to apply broadly because foreign doctors are ranked behind all New Zealand doctors and so your chances of getting something you want are limited. It might be better to go out of cycle and just find a hospital that has a job going.
You can simply email an administrator in the hospital to ask if there are any positions going. Hospital administrators in New Zealand are often more laid back than those in the UK. For example, if you don’t contact the right person in the first instance, whoever you emailed will almost certainly direct you on appropriately. You can sometimes look on District Health Board websites to find the best email address. If it’s around the annual recruitment cycle, they’ll probable just direct you to that.
In more rural hospitals, there will often be jobs available out of phase with the normal application cycle. These positions can be flexible. In Greymouth, people are sometimes offered jobs for as little time as three months, with the option to extend.
Once you find a job, it’s worth asking for email contacts of any UK doctors they already have working for them who can give the specific low-down. I’d be happy to be contacted for any readers who are looking to move to Greymouth.
How did you find the registration and visa process?
It’s very easy to get registration and a visa. The hospital can help you through the process of registration, which is lengthy but straightforward. I'd recommend starting it as soon as you have a job confirmed.
In terms of visa, a ‘working holiday’ visa is valid, and you can apply for this without any issue so long as you're a UK citizen. But if you want something guaranteeing a longer stay you can wait until you have a job offer and apply for a working skills visa. It’s likely that you'll have to get some medical clearance in the form of a chest radiograph and review by a doctor.
How did you settle in? What was the hardest thing about moving there?
We settled in easily. There are loads of UK doctors in New Zealand and this provides a social group to start things off. People are keen to socialise and the work-life balance here is excellent.
The hardest thing, in my experience, was getting a bank account without first having an address. But the ANZ bank have recognised this issue and have a means of making it possible. We were then given free accommodation by the hospital for a month whilst we got on our feet, which was very helpful.
How is the job different to your experience of Foundation Training?
There are a lot of differences between the job here and that in the UK. Firstly, the workload is much less. This means you have the time to take an interest in each patient and properly treat them with equal attention.
We have no registrars in Greymouth so as juniors we act up, are able to make higher level decisions, and tend to take more responsibility than in the UK. Equally, the consultants here are very approachable in person and by phone, often acting down so we meet in the middle. On night shifts, we're the only doctors in the hospital (including in the emergency department), but there are consultants on call who will come in if needed.
How is your rota?
The rota is reasonable. The number of hours per week are equivalent to the UK but there are some benefits here. For example, if you’re down to work the weekend but take annual leave on the Friday or the Monday then they give you the weekend off!
Our rota co-ordinator is very approachable and flexible, and will bend over backwards to make things work for the doctors as much as possible. That said, we’re a very small team here in Greymouth so that might be different in bigger hospitals across New Zealand. My wife and I have had our rotas synchronised so we’re always off on the same days.
What's it like living in Greymouth?
Greymouth is a very chilled out town, and we found a property to rent by placing an advert on the noticeboard of the local supermarket. I got a call about a week later from our now landlord. That was very straightforward for us. Living in a small town is good because the walk to work is only five minutes.
Editor’s note: Greymouth is a small town on the west coast of the South Island, surrounded by wild ocean and beautiful rivers. Find out more here.
Is the New Zealand lifestyle as good as you expected?
The lifestyle in New Zealand is just excellent. I’m home by 4:15pm every day that I’m not on-call. On our days off we go all over the place, whether that’s surfing, mountain climbing, trekking, fishing, or boating. We’ve glacier-walked, whale-watched, and wine-tasted all within the same weekend. New Zealanders understand that work is secondary to these pleasures of life, which is very different to the culture in the UK.
How are your finances?
The pay is very good here, roughly equivalent to the UK but the cost of living is a lot less. You get paid more if you work rurally, and the salary is determined by how many years you are post-graduation (within a limit) rather than by your grade.
We're paying a quarter of the rent we paid in London for a flat which has twice as much room and has a balcony overlooking the sea. At work, lunch is free as it's provided by the hospital, which saves us a huge amount of money. We didn’t really realise how much lunch was costing at home until that cost was removed!
What are your plans for next year?
Next year we'll be taking an F4 and will drop back into training after that. I don’t think one year away is enough. In that situation, no sooner will you have got set-up before you’ll be having to go home for your interview, start preparing your portfolio, and so on. But to spend longer than two years out of training seems a bit excessive.
New Zealand is 'open for business' and currently recruiting junior doctors from the UK. Find out more about the process and discover which jobs are currently available here.
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