How a calculated risk changed this doctor’s life

A big thank you to Locumstory for sponsoring this chat. is an educational, online resource about all things locum tenens. Their website has tons of information about the ins and outs of how locum tenens works and first-hand perspectives from actual locums physicians to help you determine if locum tenens is right for you. 

Welcome to our latest Hippocratic Adventures Interview! I’m  Dr. Ashwini Bapat and today we’re *very excited* to have Dr. Dalilah Restrepo with us.

Dr. Dalilah Restrepo is a Board Certified Infectious Diseases Specialist, currently practicing in New Zealand where she’s on the hospital task force involved in their successful COVID-19 pandemic response as a clinical lead of the Infection Control Team as well as caring for patients in general Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, and Sexual Health departments. 

Dr. Restrepo is the Owner and Director of her own medical consulting service. Dr. Restrepo grew up in NYC and later moved to South America where she earned her medical degree from Universidad Libre in Cali, Colombia. She returned to the United States, where she completed residency in Internal Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine Mount Sinai at Elmhurst Hospital Center. She then completed a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at the Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.She has been featured in numerous media venues including ABC news, Dr. Oz show, Fox News and NY1 news channel!

Watch the full video above so you don’t miss out! Below, we share the episode summary and show notes.

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

I practiced in New York for many years, In 2018, I got an email that they needed an ID doctor in New Zealand, and this piqued my interest. I replied out of curiosity. At the same time, I was personally and professionally going through a phase where I was looking for something new. Before I knew it, I was being interviewed by many US physicians for this position. Those physicians understood my curiosity as they too had gone through the process, with the intention of moving to NZ briefly, and well, they ended up staying since it’s such a wonderful country.

It took about 7-9 months to do the paperwork. By March of 2019, all the paperwork came together and I got ready to leave for this 1 year position. Then just as I was wrapping up my commitment, COVID-19 came, and the hospital asked for me to stay as the only ID physician there.

I’ve now been in NZ for 5 years, it’s just a very nice place to practice and live.

2. Let’s go back to 2018. What was it that made you feel like you needed a change?

I was in a practice that I loved very much, but it was an understaffed position, and I couldn’t seem to find extra coverage. So I ended up burning myself out. I was looking for something else to do and everything else I saw in the US felt like it was what I had already done or that I would end up in the same place. That’s why I thought of practicing in another country

I think the other thing that burns people out is the need for professional challenge and stimulation – and when that goes away because you’re doing the same thing day in and day out, it becomes stagnant and boring. And you lose that spark.

So practicing in another place was new for me – everything for new to me – going to the grocery store, driving on the other side of the road, everything! And for ID, bugs are different in different places, and the diseases are different.

“Even though the change seemed risky, or courageous, it was a very calculated risk.”

3. How did you approach the job search?

I worked with Global Medical Staffing and they really held my hand and took care of registration, my license, and visas. Once I arrived in NZ, I was given housing, a car, and my stipend. And once I was there I just had to show up with my stethoscope. I suppose it would be harder if you were doing it on your own.

Even though the change seemed risky, or courageous, it was a very calculated risk.

4. How does practicing ID in New Zealand, compare to its practice in the US?

The bugs in NZ are different than in the US. I practiced in a rural area with a lot of farming so I saw a lot of zoonosis, and infections from sheep to human, that I would never have seen in Manhattan. I saw some tropical disease from the islands that I wouldn’t have seen in the US, and the antibiograms are different, so we can use different antibiotics. I was employed by the hospital so I had more protected time for teaching and research.

In general, you’re still understaffed, since NZ continues to need more doctors. But it is a more protected place to practice, the work load is still less than in the US, and there is more of an emphasis on work-life balance.

When COVID-19 came, I got to do many things that I would never have gotten to do in a US hospital. I was the ID consultant for the entire hospital. So I was involved in everything COVID-19 related – from education, policy, vaccination, ventilation, infection control. I had a lot of hats on at that time. Because it is such a small country with few ID doctors, the collaboration across the North and South Islands, was really beautiful. It was professionally challenging and very gratifying.

5. In New Zealand, are subspecialties mostly limited to larger cities?

In the US, I never did anything beyond ID. But in NZ, my first position did involve a mix of ID and Internal Medicine/hospitalist type work. I was seeing MI’s, diabetes, strokes, again, that in the US I wouldn’t have seen. This was challenging for me since in the US I practiced ID, and even though I am board certified in Internal Medicine, I hadn’t practiced Internal Medicine in a while.

If you can do both your subspecialty and Internal Medicine this could be a really great fit. That said, I did have to refresh on my IM training. When COVID-19 came, I really went back to focusing on Infectious Disease.

6. What was supervision like?

The first year, you have to practice supervised. I thought in coming to a brand new country and then having to also do Internal Medicine, it was so welcoming to have supervision. I really needed that support and confirmation that we’re still treating this disease in this way.

7. How does your NZ Income and benefits compare to that in the US?

Of course salaries are never going to compare with the US salary. But the cost of living in NZ makes up for that and as an employee of the hospital, your salary is dictated by MECA, based on seniority. And this payscale seems more standard, transparent, and fair. You’re guaranteed health insurance, time off, and potentially sabbatical in the future. So there is an entity, that is looking out for physicians.

8. What are some of the joys you’ve experience in moving New Zealand?

There are so many! I have loved this country and it’s probably been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve made incredible friends and community. And professionally it was the stimulation I was looking for. Kiwi’s are the best and its an easy place to make friends.

3 Quick Rapid-Fire Questions

We will ask some “Rapid Fire” type questions at the end which are meant to induce short/off the top of your head type answers. These will be fun!

a. What’s the coolest place you visited?

b. What’s a piece of advice you would give to someone who’s on the fence about trying out an experience abroad?

c. Have these experience abroad been worth it?

Watch the video to learn Dr. Restrepo’s answers!

Now we want to hear from you!

If you were to practice medicine abroad, what would be your most important decision-making factor? (location, ease of getting set-up (necessary paperwork), length of commitment, etc.) Let us know in the comments below.

And if you liked this, remember to subscribe to our newsletter to be in the know about all things moving abroad!

For more information on moving to New Zealand, check out our Ultimate Guide to Practicing Medicine in New Zealand. Once again, a big thank you to Locumstory for sponsoring this chat.



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