TepaeruAriki French, a first year doctor trained and educated in New Zealand, says the current pay package offered by the Health ministry will not attract professionals like her.
Cook Islands is facing doctor shortage, mostly on the outer islands such as Mangaia. The southern group island is in a desperate need for a qualified general practitioner.
On Tuesday this week an emergency charter flight flew four sick people from Mangaia to Rarotonga – one woman in critical condition after lapsing into a coma.
Dr French, who was born and raised on Aitutaki, says she is happy to return and do short-term pro bono work in the future. But full time work in the Cook Islands on the current pay is a no-no, she added.
“I would be able to come if I was able to live and pay my $90,000 student loan back, but the salary there won’t accommodate it,” Dr French said.
Doctors in the Cook Islands start on about $50,000 a year.
“The reality is money talks,” Dr French said, “but if the politicians can afford to fly business class surely they can pay the front line doctors what they're worth.”
A resident doctor in New Zealand can expect to earn up to $100,000 a year while a registrar could earn at least $145,000 a year. The average pay for general practitioners is reported to be around $180,000 while a consultant (specialist) can earn about $300,000 annually.
Doctors in those positions in the Cook Islands receive nowhere near the salaries paid in New Zealand.
Dr French said the Ministry of Health did a call out in New Zealand, holding meetings with qualified doctors there. She was away overseas when the calls were made.
In Mangaia’s case, Dr French said the Health ministry would need an experienced specialist.
“The reality is, to work in isolation such as Mangaia, you need a lot of experience … to be on call 24 hours! That’s tough,” she said.
“Anyways I will eventually return to Aitutaki, probably near retirement once I’ve got financial security.”
Mangaia has been without a doctor since 2014 and MP Tetangi Matapo blamed Health ministry’s failure to assign one to the deteriorating health of her people. Health Secretary Dr Josephine Herman has not responded to questions for the past two days.