Dr Jeness Christensen "Why I moved from the US to NZ to work as a GP"

Happy IMG doctor in New Zealand

Dr Jeness Christensen relocated from the US with her husband Fred and works in Queen St Practice in Wairoa as a GP. She started at the beginning of January. Wairoa is a town and territorial authority district in New Zealand's North Island. The town is the northernmost in the Hawke's Bay region and is located on the northern shore of Hawke Bay at the mouth of the Wairoa River and to the west of the Māhia Peninsula.

Medrecruit supported Jeness in making this move. This is her story:

Growing up in the Philippines surrounded by poverty and inequality, I decided that becoming a doctor was an effective way to help those in need, not only by treating patients but also by educating people on how to achieve better health. I did just that when I became a village doctor (GP) after medical school, but fate put me on a different path when I met my husband, moved to the US, and became an internal medicine doctor. It was a fulfilling career, but as electronic records became the norm, our patient care became increasingly diluted by administrative and data entry work. In contrast, our medical support staff became less and less qualified (thanks to the labour shortage after the COVID-19 epidemic). It was the perfect formula for physician burnout, and I started to question whether my work as a physician was still worthwhile.

This, and becoming empty nesters, led my husband and I to take a year off and travel to various countries, including New Zealand.

In one of our New Zealand adventures, we did a three-day canoeing trip down the Wanganui River on the North Island, where we stayed at a marae. We saw how the Māoris and Pākehā (white New Zealanders) live harmoniously there. That, as well as the beautiful landscape, nudged me to apply for a physician post.

The process took over six months. Thanks to the hardworking Medrecruit staff (Rachel Gowdy and Lucie Kalouskova and our immigration consultant, Sarah Wright), my husband and I arrived in our modest three-bedroom house in rural Wairoa. We were curious about what differences to expect from the rural town of Bend, Oregon in the northwest US, (population 100,000) to living in a small rural town with a population of 8,680 and a 68% Māori population. On our first night, while we were having dinner on the deck, a hedgehog investigated our garden while Tuis sang on the clothesline (no dryer here). A paved path across our house leads to the shops on the left and the ocean on the right, where surfers ride the four to five-foot waves. The Wairoa River meets the ocean down the road from us, where Māoris spend after-work hours surfcasting for snapper, kawaii and blue cod.

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Our practice allowed me a week to settle, which was helpful, and we added a few personal touches to make our house a home. This also allowed us to set up a local bank account quickly, get a New Zealand driver's license, and learn the EHR and the New Zealand way of practising medicine.

Settling with my husband was helpful, as he could concentrate on things to do at home and yard while I tried to narrow the gap between my practice in Oregon and my new practice in Wairoa. Some striking differences include how our practice here books most patients the same day (therefore, no wait time for patients, fewer no-shows), and experienced nurses triage phone calls, manage less complex cases and schedule patients. It reminded me of my practice in the US in the 90s.

One of our friends, Timoti, took my husband's surf fishing down the beach, and he came home with ten pounds of fish. My husband, the ex-IBM executive!

I bought us cruiser bikes (I never even liked biking!) the first week we were here and have been taking the seven-minute bike ride to work, where I pass through pastures of sheep, cattle and horses, beautiful wild gardens amid bird songs and sounds of the ocean.

Working as a GP in New Zealand has challenges, but it has been a fulfilling career move.

The Medical Council of New Zealand is a stickler for checklists. If you are considering working here in the next few years, I would suggest talking to an experienced medical recruiter sooner rather than later so that you may be able to make some subtle changes in your practice that will fulfil their strict criteria.

It was an easier move for my husband and me, as we had been here for vacation a year before and wanted to move to New Zealand. If you have teenage children, a larger city will probably be a more suitable location.

Some of my favourite experiences so far have been my favourite cove close to our house at sunset, the beach-side town of Gisborne, the geothermal town of Rotorua, and the great walk in Tongariro.

Medrecruit Editorial Team
28 February 2024Article by Medrecruit Editorial TeamMedrecruit Editor