We had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Prakash Vishnu, an exceptionally accomplished International Medical Graduate (IMG) with extensive experience in the United States. Dr. Vishnu is a highly respected hematologist, and we are fortunate to have him here with us today on IMG Secrets. He generously shared his remarkable journey, which took him from India to New Zealand and eventually to the USA.
In this article, Dr. Vishnu provides invaluable insights into how you can replicate his path, starting from your home country and making your way to New Zealand. He provides insights into the various pathways available in New Zealand, and if your ultimate goal is to move to the USA or Canada, you’ll find comprehensive answers to guide you on this remarkable journey.
Home Country to New Zealand
Dr. Iyer: Could you please share your journey of relocating from India to New Zealand and provide insights for other international medical graduates (IMGs) on how they can replicate your path?
Dr. Vishnu: We relocated to New Zealand almost two decades ago. Both New Zealand and Australia are part of the Commonwealth Consortium of health systems, which closely resemble the healthcare systems of the UK and Canada. They adhere to various medical colleges, such as the FRACP (Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians), surgeons, anesthetists, and others. If you obtain certification from any of these Commonwealth Health Consortium colleges, you can practice medicine in New Zealand. Let’s discuss two aspects here: one, for individuals who wish to move to New Zealand, reside there, and practice medicine, and the other, for those who intend to use New Zealand as a stepping stone to the United States.
Dr. Iyer: That sounds great.
Dr. Vishnu: Indeed, we chose the latter path. We moved to New Zealand, where I pursued my master’s program at the University of Auckland. While I was studying for my master’s, I also took the USMLE exams, and the research I conducted during my master’s program proved beneficial in facilitating our subsequent move to the United States.
Pathways from Home Country to New Zealand
Dr. Iyer: Alright: Could you please explain the pathway you opted for when transitioning from India to New Zealand?
Dr. Vishnu: I initially entered New Zealand as a student by enrolling in a graduate program, which is a step I highly recommend to any medical graduates from India. This approach provides an opportunity to immerse oneself in the healthcare system, gain a deep understanding of its functioning, establish valuable connections, and network with medical institutions affiliated with the university. Additionally, engaging in research during this time can significantly enhance your application for further postgraduate training programs or employment in the country.
My experience with the Master’s program in molecular medicine at the University of Auckland was exceptionally beneficial. While pursuing my master’s degree, I had the privilege to work as a research associate in a laboratory dedicated to studying the genetics of Crohn’s Disease. This opportunity allowed me to actively participate in a genetics gastroenterology clinic, providing me with valuable exposure to the clinical aspects of medicine in New Zealand. Subsequently, after successfully completing all the USMLE steps—Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3—I was able to make the transition to the United States.
What visa is required for New Zealand?
Dr. Iyer: Before getting into the discussion about your move to the United States, could you please share the type of visa you used to relocate to New Zealand and discuss any significant implications or considerations associated with it?
Dr. Vishnu: Visa policies are subject to change, and when my wife and I made our move, we were fortunate to obtain permanent residency status in New Zealand, which is akin to the Green Card in the United States. At that time, New Zealand operated on a point-based system, allowing us to apply directly from India. This presented us with the opportunity to relocate to New Zealand.
I believe this system still exists today, offering individuals the chance to move to New Zealand based on their combined qualifications and corresponding point score. Another option is entering New Zealand as a student, particularly at prestigious universities such as these
- University of Auckland,
- The University of Otago in Dunedin, and
- The University of Wellington.
Among these, two medical schools stand out:
- The University of Auckland and
- The University of Otago.
Both institutions offer exceptional medical and paramedical programs, including Health Informatics, Molecular Medicine, Nutrition, Genetics, Sports Medicine, and Occupational Medicine. These courses provide a solid foundation for transitioning back into clinical medicine.
It’s worth noting that New Zealand’s permanent residency system resembles Canada’s, as both countries employ point-based systems. So, for international medical graduates (IMGs) interested in New Zealand, you now have insight into the pathway to securing permanent residency.
What happens after Master's in New Zealand?
Dr. Iyer: After completing your Master’s degree in New Zealand, did you pursue a residency program in New Zealand, or did you take a different path?”
Dr. Vishnu: After completing my Master’s in New Zealand, I did not pursue residency training in the country. Instead, I focused on preparing for and successfully completing USMLE Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3, with the ultimate goal of securing a residency position in the United States.
However, if I had chosen to continue my medical journey in New Zealand, there are established pathways available. One such route is the vocational training course, with an emphasis on primary care, much like in the United States. General Practitioners make up a significant portion of the medical workforce, and there are also opportunities for subspecialty training through the vocational subspecialty training pathway. This pathway typically involves progressing from a junior house officer to a senior house officer and eventually a registrar. Depending on the available positions and your training progress, you can ultimately attain the status of a consultant or specialist.
If you intend to pursue further postgraduate training in New Zealand, the system closely resembles that of the United Kingdom. You start as a junior house officer, advance to a senior house officer after one or two years or after completing specific assignments, and then transition to a registrar role. The opportunity to become a consultant arises based on the availability of positions. Moreover, you have the option to specialize in specific areas of medicine. New Zealand offers numerous opportunities for primary care practitioners, known as General Practitioners, particularly in major cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and others.
What is the residency duration in New Zealand?
Dr. Vishnu: Unlike the United States, where each specialty follows a structured graduate medical education program with a defined timeline, New Zealand operates differently. There is no fixed duration for residency programs in New Zealand. Instead, if you specialize in a field like internal medicine, you’re required to accumulate a minimum of 36 months in that specialty to attain specialist or sub-specialist status. Following this, if you wish to pursue a sub-specialty such as gastroenterology, cardiology, or hematology-oncology, it entails an additional 24 months of training in that specific area. In total, to complete both a residency program and a fellowship, somewhat akin to the U.S. system, it typically takes around five years in New Zealand.
How Long to Stay in New Zealand before moving out?
Dr. Iyer: Alright, can you share how long you stayed in New Zealand and the duration between your time there and your subsequent move to the USA?
Dr. Vishnu: We spent approximately two years in New Zealand. During that time, I enrolled in my master’s program, which lasted about two years. While pursuing my graduate studies, I made a trip to the United States to take the Step 3 exam. During that visit, I also attended several interviews for residency programs. This occurred around the middle of my second year in the graduate program. Once I successfully matched into a residency program in the United States, I returned to New Zealand to complete my graduate program and then eventually made the move to the United States. So, all in all, our time in New Zealand spanned just over two years.
Are there benefits in residency matching in the USA/Canada?
Dr. Iyer: Alright, can you share if your time in New Zealand was beneficial in matching into a residency program in the USA, and would you recommend this pathway to international medical graduates (IMGs) aspiring to move to the USA or Canada?”
Dr. Vishnu: Absolutely, I wholeheartedly encourage medical students and graduates from India to consider pursuing a graduate program in New Zealand. These programs carry a well-deserved reputation, especially those offered by institutions like the University of Auckland, which is globally ranked among the top hundred universities. The education system in New Zealand closely aligns with that of the United States, making the transition smoother. Additionally, I found the course directors and research mentors to be highly supportive, assisting me in obtaining strong recommendation letters that undoubtedly boosted my residency application.
In my case, New Zealand served as a pathway to the United States, and enrolling in the graduate program opened up numerous opportunities. Conducting research and having publications resulting from that research were particularly beneficial. These are the aspects I strongly recommend and encourage Indian graduates to pursue.
Moreover, gaining admission to a graduate program anywhere in the world, whether in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, or even the United States, before embarking on a residency program, is always advantageous. It provides an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the healthcare system and establish valuable connections. This enriches your application and positions you as a stronger candidate compared to those who have not followed this path.
Is the process similar for IMGs from anywhere in the world?
Dr. Iyer: Indeed, we’ve primarily discussed the process for IMGs from India, but we have a diverse audience hailing from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, various regions of Africa, the Philippines, Brazil, and numerous other parts of the world. Can you shed light on whether the process would be comparable for IMGs from these different regions?”
Dr. Vishnu: Yes, the process is indeed quite similar. I’ve come across medical students from the countries you mentioned, and the pathway seems to be consistent for IMGs from various regions.
Is moving from New Zealand to Canada easier?
Additionally, I’d like to highlight for IMGs that if you obtain certification in New Zealand and have aspirations to move to Canada, the Royal College of Canada recognizes and accredits the training you receive in New Zealand. This can make your transition to Canada exceptionally smooth, and it’s certainly a pathway worth considering.
Now that you’ve gained valuable insights from our expert on how to transition from New Zealand to the US or Canada, here’s an exciting opportunity to explore: moving directly to the USA from your home country as a consultant, even without holding a green card or US citizenship. We have a dedicated video that addresses this topic in detail, and I highly recommend you check it out. If you have any questions or need further information, please feel free to post them in the comments below. Your inquiries are important to us, and we’ll do our best to respond promptly. Take care, stay safe, and I look forward to connecting with you again soon.
Dr. Prakash Vishnu, MBBS, MD
American Board of Specialties Certified in Internal Medicine, Hematology & Oncology
Master's, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Dr. Rajeev Iyer, MBBS, MD, FASA
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
The opinion in the article is author’s own and does not represent the opinion of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Auckland, or any other organization or individual.