Becoming an ICU doctor in Australia and New Zealand

ICU doctors

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) doctors, or intensivists, play an important role in the healthcare systems of Australia and New Zealand, providing care to patients in the most critical conditions. The path to becoming an ICU doctor in these countries is demanding yet rewarding, with various opportunities and challenges along the way.

Demand for ICU Doctors

Both Australia and New Zealand face a constant demand for ICU doctors, exacerbated by global health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This demand is particularly high in rural and remote areas, where medical facilities often struggle to attract and retain specialist medical staff.


In terms of remuneration, ICU doctors in Australia and New Zealand are among the highest-paid medical professionals. In Australia, ICU specialists can earn between AUD $250,000 to $500,000 per year, depending on experience and location. In New Zealand, the annual salary range is NZD $200,000 to $400,000. Locum ICU doctors often command higher rates due to the urgent and flexible nature of their roles. In Australia, we are seeing locum ICU consultants earn over AUD $2,500 per day.

Career pathways

The career of an ICU doctor can vary significantly. Many choose to sub-specialise in areas such as paediatric intensive care, cardiothoracic intensive care, or neuro-intensive care. Work environments vary from major metropolitan hospitals to smaller regional and rural hospitals. Both permanent and locum positions are available, with locum roles offering flexibility and the opportunity to work in diverse settings.

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Lifestyle and travel

Working as an ICU doctor in Australia or New Zealand offers a lifestyle that balances intense, rewarding work with ample opportunity for relaxation and exploration. Both countries boast beautiful landscapes and vibrant cultures, providing a backdrop for a fulfilling professional and personal life. Locum positions frequently offer travel opportunities, allowing doctors to explore different parts of the country while practising medicine.

“Then you go into the hospital where you are straight into the wards, but thankfully, the medicine in Intensive Care is the same wherever you go, so it is pretty easy to just kind of get into the swing of things.” Said Medrecruit locum and ICU doctor, Dr David Silley.

Steps to becoming an ICU doctor

To become an ICU doctor, one must complete a medical degree and several years of specialised training. In Australia, this involves training with the College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand (CICM), which takes a minimum of six years post-graduate. The pathway is similar in New Zealand, with additional requirements for registration with the Medical Council of New Zealand.

Necessary skills

ICU doctors need a varied set of skills, including high-level decision-making, critical thinking and the ability to work under pressure. Empathy and communication skills are also important, given the intense interactions with patients' families.

Preparing for the role

Aspiring ICU doctors should focus on gaining experience in critical care settings and pursue relevant rotations during their training. Networking with established intensivists and participating in professional forums can also provide valuable insights and opportunities.

When interviewing for ICU positions, candidates can expect questions that assess their clinical knowledge, decision-making capabilities, and ability to handle stress. Questions often involve hypothetical scenarios to gauge a candidate's performance in critical situations.

Becoming an ICU doctor in Australia or New Zealand is a challenging yet advantageous career path. It offers excellent pay, diverse working environments, and the opportunity to significantly impact patients' lives. For those looking for flexibility and variety in their medical career, locuming as an ICU doctor can be an excellent option, providing both professional growth and personal satisfaction.

Jordy Black
24 June 2024Article by Jordy BlackMedrecruit Editor