Achieving English proficiency for professional registration: The experience of overseas-qualified health professionals in the New Zealand context


John Read

Rosemary Wette

Date Published:

12th April 2010

This study explored the experience of a group of overseas-trained health professionals in seeking to meet the English language requirements for registration in New Zealand by enrolling in a specialised course at a university in Auckland. A major focus of the course was preparation for both IELTS and the Occupational English Test (OET), the latter being an ESP test developed in Australia for the assessment of health personnel. The study investigated factors influencing participants’ choice of pathway to re-registration, as well as their study and test-taking strategies and test performance. It was based on interviews undertaken with 13 doctors, nurses and pharmacists who attended the course, supported by data from a journal kept by the course tutor, lesson observations, and an analysis of in-house and external assessment scores from a total of 20 students.

Findings revealed that participants initially tended to favour the OET on the grounds of its familiar content; however, in many instances, this perception changed after actual experience of the two tests and the realisation that neither is, in any real sense, a test of their ability to communicative effectively in clinical contexts. Over the course of the study, many participants came to see the advantages of IELTS, which included lower fees and the availability of preparatory courses and practice materials.

Factors affecting the likelihood of success in either test included entry-level proficiency, attitude to the tests, and participants’ degree of acceptance of the rationale for the advanced level of English proficiency required by professional bodies. Also influential were their strategies for self-study and test-taking, personal attributes such as perseverance, confidence and the ability to self-assess realistically, the amount of financial and family support available to them, and the strength of their commitment to settling permanently in Australasia.