An Emergency Medicine Doctor Moves to New Zealand & Rediscovers Medicine

Welcome to our latest Hippocratic Adventures Interview! Today we are very excited to chat with Dr. Natalie Newman.

Dr. Natalie Newman is a board certified Emergency Medicine physician who has been practicing for over 25 years. She  attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University on an Army scholarship, completed EM residency at North Shore University Hospital, and then entered active duty service with the U.S. Army. Dr. Newman was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina where she was Chief of the Emergency Department at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia. After returning  to the U.S., she was promoted to Major and completed the rest of her Army service at Fort Bragg. She then continued her emergency practice as an independent contractor. 

In April 2022, Dr. Newman relocated to New Zealand where she currently practices as a Rural Health Medicine specialist. She is a talented writer and speaker, and you can find her blogging at Authentic Medicine.

Watch the full chat above. Below, we share the episode summary and show notes.

1. Tell us your story. How did you end up practicing in New Zealand? 

In 2011, Dr. Newman worked with an Emergency Physician colleague who moved from the US to New Zealand. Over time, she became unhappy with the corporatization of medicine, particularly in EM, and she sought a change. Around 2017, she decided to practice emergency medicine in St. Thomas. The pay was low, but she enjoyed the island life. She continued to hear about more physicians moving to New Zealand and how they were happy and content with the quality of life they found. One physician shared how he was able to have “dinner with his kids”- a valuable change in his life. 

“We have choices, and it’s only us setting the boundaries”.

She started looking again at opportunities in Saipan, Bermuda, Guam, British Virgin Islands and South Africa; however, New Zealand was calling to her. She reactivated her passport in December 2019, connected with Head Medical, a physician recruitment organization, and searched for a position where she could practice Emergency Medicine and Inpatient Medicine, a mix she loved. After seeing the description for the Rural Health Medicine position in New Zealand, she knew she had found the right fit. 

Over the course of her career, she worked as a Locum tenens physician and practiced in many different practice settings including a correction facility as a primary care physician, on Catalina Island, CA practicing EM, inpatient care and rounding once a week at a nursing home, at the Coachella Music Festival, as a ship physician, and in the Caribbean. These experiences broadened her skill set and helped her eventually land her current position as a Rural Health Medicine doctor. She also highlights these experiences specifically to point out to other physicians, that “we have choices, and it’s only us setting the boundaries”. 

2. What was the process of obtaining a New Zealand medical license?

She started searching for jobs in New Zealand around the end of 2019/beginning of 2020 and it took her two years to obtain her NZ medical license. This timeline was longer than usual because the Rural Health medicine position is typically filled by a General Practitioner, Family Medicine or Internal Medicine physician. Dr. Newman had to jump through extra hoops as an EM doctor. She worked with a fantastic recruiter at Head Medical who supported her through this two-year process. She is now practicing under supervision with a provisional medical license. Provisional supervision is required in New Zealand for most foreign physicians.

Here is more information about obtaining a NZ medical license

3. What is Rural Health Medicine?

Rural health medicine in New Zealand is working both in the emergency department and inpatient medicine wards. She enjoys the continuity of admitting a patient and then managing them on the inpatient wards. Typically, these positions are staffed by a General Practitioner or a physician who completed a fellowship in Rural Health Medicine. 

4. Did you need to take additional medical exams, repeat part of residency, or work under supervision? 

Dr. Newman did not need to take additional exams. She is currently working under supervision on a provisional medical license. She is completing a comparable pathway to become a GP which will then enable her to practice Rural Health Medicine. She is supervised by a physician who completed a fellowship in Rural Health Medicine. 

The Medical Council of New Zealand outlined the criteria for her 2 years of supervision. For Dr. Newman, supervision involves running patient cases by the supervising doctor, meeting with her supervisor every week which then becomes less frequent, a monthly evaluation and completing health care modules and programs about the Maori culture. Her supervising physician has been particularly helpful in helping her understand the Maori customs and traditions, such as those involved with end of-life care. She has 3-years to complete the criteria for the Comparable Health pathway. 

5. How did you approach the job search?  

She worked closely with a physician recruiter at Head Medical over a two-year period. For those looking for postings in New Zealand, including those at Head Medical, check out our job board.

6. How do your income/benefits in NZ compare to that in the US?

For the past 15 years, she has worked as a Locums tenens physician and independent contractor in the US,  so her income varied. Currently, as a Senior Medical Officer(SMO), her salary is approximately equivalent to $200,000 USD per year. She works 40 hours per week, and has 6 weeks of vacation (that people actually take!), sick days, and personal time off. When she works more than 40 hours per week, she gets paid for the additional work, at the locums hourly rate! Every month she has a stretch of 9 days off. Typically, a rural position in New Zealand does have a higher salary.  

In addition, Dr. Newman negotiated 6 weeks of free housing and rental car during her transition to New Zealand.

“You just have to be frugal. “

Although she does not make as much as she would have in the US, she believes the salary and benefits package she received to be reasonable. She no longer pays for health insurance since New Zealand has universal health care.  On her current salary, she is able to pay the mortgage and property taxes on her home in the US, her school loans and the rent and living expenses in New Zealand.

For more about salary in New Zealand, check out our 15 Most Common Questions About Moving to New Zealand and our Q&A With Dr. Carmen Brown.

7. How does malpractice insurance work in New Zealand?

She has malpractice insurance. That said, the culture in New Zealand is not as litigious. She does not worry about being sued and doesn’t feel the need to practice defensive medicine. She describes feeling as if a weight has been lifted.  

8. What are some of the cultural differences you noted between New Zealand and the US?

The angst of having to rush in the ED is absent. Patients are treated humanely, with warmth and dignity, and even in the ED and on the hospital ward, there is time for tea. The physician union, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists(ASMS), advocates on behalf of physicians. Union reps will review contracts for free and once employed, ensure docs are treated fairly. She is adjusting well to a healthcare environment in which she now feels safe and protected. 

9. What were the challenges you encountered in transitioning to New Zealand? 

The New Zealand lingo is different. They used the word “éclair” for labs or “paracetamol” instead of Tylenol. Some medications are not available in New Zealand such as Toradol and Benadryl. New Zealand has a medication formulary where patients only need to pay a 5-dollar copay. If you prescribe a medication outside the formulary, the patient will have to pay the associated cost. This is similar to the formulary that VA hospitals have. The pronunciation of certain words is also different. 

10. What are some of the joys?

In moving to New Zealand, she has found her home, a place where she feels welcome. Dr. Newman has made the decision to permanently relocate and recently submitted her application for a permanent resident visa to remain in New Zealand.

3 Rapid-Fire Questions

Watch the video to learn Dr. Newman’s answers to these 3 questions. 

  1. What is a cool place you visited after moving to NZ?
  2. What is a piece of advice you would give to someone who is on the fence about coming to New Zealand?
  3. Has this relocation and move been worth it?

Interested in Moving to New Zealand?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the relocation process and you’re ready to make your dream of moving to New Zealand a reality, come work with our Guidance service. Sign up here!

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