The consequences of cultural difference: the international medical graduate journey in New Zealand

Int J Med Educ. 2023 Apr 28;14:43-54. doi: 10.5116/ijme.6440.0e37.


Objectives: To identify how differences in cultural and professional values between New Zealand born and trained doctors and International Medical Graduates (IMGs) affect the practice and retention of IMGs in New Zealand.

Methods: A mixed-method approach was used. An anonymous 42-item online questionnaire was used to compare participants' cultural and professional values. Participants were 373 New Zealand doctors, 198 IMG, and 25 doctors born and raised elsewhere but who qualified in New Zealand, a group not identified prospectively. The qualitative component used interviews with 14 IMGs to identify cultural challenges faced and with nine New Zealand doctors to identify the challenges they faced working alongside IMGs. Qualitative data were transcribed and analysed thematically.

Results: There were differences in power distance, with the medically qualified in New Zealand doctors having the highest power distance, followed by the IMGs, suggesting a preference for a hierarchical environment at odds with the New Zealand culture. Interviews found cultural differences in communication styles and hierarchy contributed to professional challenges. The cultural transition was difficult for IMGs as they received minimal support. One-third of IMGs acknowledged their behaviours did not fit well in New Zealand. Complaints about IMGs increased when they reverted to default behaviours regarded negatively by New Zealand colleagues or patients.

Conclusions: IMGs are open to change but face a lack of orientation and cultural education opportunities, hindering integration. Residency programs must recognise this disconnect and incorporate cross-cultural programmes in the curriculum. Such programmes would assist the adaption and retention of IMG doctors.

Keywords: cross-cultural transition; cultural values; international medical graduates; new zealand; professional values.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Foreign Medical Graduates
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • New Zealand
  • Physicians*