This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
General practitioners diagnose and treat the health problems of individuals and families in the community. They are also involved in screening at-risk groups for diseases such as cervical cancer and diabetes.
Trainee general practitioners usually earn
$70K-$175K per year
Experienced general practitioners usually earn
$113K-$212K per year
Source: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and Resident Doctors' Association.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Medical Council of New Zealand.
Pay varies for general practitioners and for registrars (those in training), depending on hours, location and the number of patients they see.
- Registrars working for a district health board (DHB) usually earn between $70,000 and $175,000 a year.
- Qualified general practitioners working for a DHB usually earn between $113,000 and $212,000.
Sources: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), '2013 to 2016 National DHB Collective Agreement (MECA)'; Resident Doctors' Association, '2012 to 2013 DHB Collective Agreement'; and Ian Powell, executive director, ASMS.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
General practitioners may do some or all of the following:
- consult with and examine patients and diagnose their problems
- treat individuals and families over extended periods
- advise on health care and prevention of illness
- perform minor surgery
- prescribe and administer medicines
- keep medical records
- refer patients to other health services when necessary
- liaise with ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) over accident and injury claims
- train and supervise doctors working towards their GP exams.
Skills and knowledge
General practitioners need to have:
- excellent communication and people skills
- knowledge of anatomy and how the human body works
- knowledge of different diseases, illnesses and injuries
- knowledge of medicines and treatments, and the effect these have on patients
- diagnostic skills
- up-to-date knowledge of new research, treatments and practices
- knowledge of medical ethics and law.
General practitioners who run their own practice may also need to have small business knowledge and skills.
- may work long and irregular hours and be on call. They may also work part time
- work in clinics and health centres
- often come into contact with diseases and bodily fluids
- may travel to other towns or countries for conferences. Rural general practitioners and those who make house calls travel locally.
What's the job really like?
Ron Janes - General Practitioner
Originally from Canada, Ron Janes came to New Zealand 20 years ago and wanted to continue practising both hospital emergency work and patient management. "So I chose a place where I could do all of that. It's exciting, and that's the kind of practice I enjoy."
Using all your medical skills in rural practice
Ron works part time at a medical practice on the ground floor of Wairoa Hospital, and part time as a rural hospital doctor.
"Medical practice can get quite dramatic in a small rural town. I’ve seen everything at the hospital: gunshot wounds, heart attacks and amputations. I've also had parents carrying children through the doors with meningitis. You really do get to use all your skills."
Challenging work if not enough doctors
Ron spends one weekend in five on call, and although the workload is usually manageable, it can become stressful. "There have been challenging times when doctors have left the area and the workload has risen, but as more students are being trained in rural areas it should be less of a problem to attract doctors in the future."
And of course, there are those outdoor charms. "There are excellent beaches, fishing and surfing here!"
Kiriana Bird describes how she became a general practitioner with a Māori health provider in Hastings - 1.42 mins. (Video courtesy of Kia Ora Hauora)
Ko Maungatautari te maunga,
Ko Ohau te awa,
Ko Tainui te waka,
Ko Tukorehe te marae,
Ko Ngāti Tukorehe te hapū,
Ko Ngāti Raukawa me Ngāti Porou ngā iwi,
Ko Kiriana Bird tōku ingoa.
I'm a general practitioner at Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, which is a Māori health provider in Hastings. Our catchment area is Flaxmere, Raureka, Camberley.
A general practitioner is a doctor who specialises in family medicine. In GP land you’ve got to know a little bit about every single thing. So someone might come in to you about an eye problem, so you’ve got to know all about the eye and what you’re going to do with this patient. Or someone might come in and say, 'Oh, my toe’s sore,' and you’ve got to think, ‘Oh, okay, what are all the things about the toe?’
So it crosses all systems in the body, from the brain, to the heart, the lungs, the eyes, the ears, the mouth – everything.
I went to St Joseph’s Māori Girls' College, the University of Auckland to do my medicine. Like the mahi itself wasn’t hard, but the commitment is hard, I think that was the main thing. If you had, if you could stick at it, going to lectures every day, getting your assignments in and doing all that, it wasn’t actually the... It wasn’t difficult, but it was just keeping at it.
So if you're interested in being a Māori doctor, grab one of your teachers, grab one of your careers advisers, have a kōrero to them and see if they can help you. And if they can't, come down to Hastings by me and have a kōrero with me.
Together with Kia Ora Hauora, let’s see Māori living careers in health.
Kia Ora Hauora.
To become a general practitioner you need to:
- complete the Health Sciences First Year programme at Otago University, or the first year of either the Bachelor of Health Sciences or Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science at Auckland University
- complete a five-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree at Otago or Auckland
- work for two years as a house officer (supervised junior doctor) in a hospital
- complete another three years of specialist training and examinations to become a Fellow of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
You also need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
- University of Otago website - information about the Health Sciences First Year programme
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- University of Auckland website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners website - information about general practitioner training
- Medical Council of New Zealand website - information about general practice training
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
- Children’s Action Plan website - overview of restrictions on working with children
- New Zealand Legislation website - information on serious convictions that prevent employment with children
To enter tertiary training you need to have NCEA Level 3. Useful subjects include maths with calculus and/or statistics, chemistry, physics, biology and English.
General practitioners need to be:
- patient and concerned for others
- able to work well under pressure
- able to remain calm in emergencies
- able to make good decisions, and solve problems
- good time managers
- understanding of other cultures' attitudes to medical treatment.
If sick people touch your heart you'll do well. You want to help people but you have to be able to think outside the square and be prepared to be different.
Tessa Jones - General Practitioner
Useful experience for general practitioners includes:
- work in hospitals or other health-related work, such as in a clinic
- work in a pharmacy
- work with community groups that involves a wide variety of people.
General practitioners need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) and good hearing.
Doctors need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- Health Careers
- Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ)
- 0800 286 801 - www.mcnz.org.nz
- Royal NZ College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP)
- (04) 496 5999 - www.rnzcgp.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Number of factors contribute to shortage of general practitioners
The shortage of general practitioners is due to:
- New Zealand's growing and ageing population, which means more people visiting general practitioners
- an ageing workforce – nearly a third of doctors, including general practitioners,are over 55 years old and due to retire in the next 10 years
- some general practitioners moving overseas for better pay and working conditions
- a worldwide shortage of doctors, including general practitioners, which means that it can be hard for New Zealand to attract general practitioners from overseas to work here.
General practitioner appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list, which means the Government is actively encouraging skilled general practitioners from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Extra payment for graduates working in hard-to-staff locations, and in general practice
The Ministry of Health runs a voluntary bonding scheme, with additional payments, aimed at recruiting more graduate doctors to work in locations that are hard to staff, such as rural areas, and specialist areas that are hard to staff, such as general practice.
Medical practices main employers of general practitioners
Most general practitioners are employed by a medical practice on a full or part-time basis or as a locum (a general practitioner who fills in when others are away), or are self-employed in their own practice. They may also be employed by a district health board.
- Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, ‘Taking the Temperature of the Hospital Specialist Workforce, August 2014’, accessed November 2014. (www.asms.org.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long-term Skill Shortage List', accessed November 2014, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Medical Council of New Zealand, 'The New Zealand Medical Workforce', 2011, accessed November 2013, (www.mcnz.org.nz).
Progression and specialisations
General practitioners may progress to teach students. They may also own their own practice, often in conjunction with other general practitioners.
General practitioners can further develop their skills in areas such as:
- emergency medicine
- sports medicine
- obstetrics (childbirth)
- geriatric medicine (working with the elderly)
- paediatrics (working with children)
- palliative care (lessening pain).
Last updated 22 September 2015