True tales of a former medical recruiter by Roger Knight
Back in the 1980’s, the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, was a huge draw card for health care professionals in Australia and New Zealand. It was though this opportunity had just been discovered, but it was more of a case, that recruitment companies had now opened the market up, by being based in Sydney, rather than just in London or LA.
Attractive tax-free salaries and air tickets, including mid contract flights were on offer, incentivizing candidates who saw this as a means to travel to Europe as well as accrue substantial savings.
As a consequence, there was no shortage of candidates to choose from, whether they were medical specialists or nurses. It was as though a sort of Klondike frenzy had taken hold, fuelled by a very slick and compelling advertising campaign at the time.
As a senior medical recruiter, I travelled for over five years around Australia and New Zealand. I visited a different location almost every six weeks, in search of candidates to interview, and to determine their suitability, and if they demonstrated a positive can-do attitude, cross cultural adaptability potential, as well as trying to tease out, any disguised agendas, that they might have. All of this was to be achieved in an hour or so in first meeting them.
Having a psychiatric nursing background, proved useful, in trying to unmask any hidden agendas. These typically would range from being recently rejected by a partner, to divorce [ often the case with doctors, needing to financially re-establish themselves.] along with alcohol related problems, gambling and in one case of a Histopathologist, a conviction for necrophilia.
Whilst it is relatively easier to assess and confirm clinical competence, the ability to determine psychological stability and actual motivation, behind that best side of us, and sometimes faked persona, that we can all project at interview, makes for more of a challenge.
We used to call this, the foreign legion syndrome, and I certainly interviewed a lot of candidates in five years, who would have fallen easily into that category.
Typically, I would interview up to eight candidates in a day, in a hotel suite, followed by an evening presentation on living and working in Saudi Arabia. I recall seeing an Anaesthetist among my audience in Adelaide once, that I recruited a year earlier, to a hospital in Taif. I thought that he was there to take me to task, but my approach of never gilding the lily, had paid off, and he commended me afterwards for giving an accurate portrayal.
Then there was the embarrassing episode in Perth, when the Director of Nursing of the Royal Perth hospital, stood up in the audience and accused me of poaching her nurses. I deflected this, by saying that I was just assisting them in making an informed decision, and in any case, they would eventually return with valuable experience, that would make them more of an asset.
Candidates back then, for the most part, were in earnest to be hired, which in some cases involved being propositioned at times. I remember interviewing a medical secretary in Melbourne, who obviously thought that by stroking my thigh under the table, she would increase her chances of being ultimately hired.
Sometimes, interview venues were not ideal. One hotel I stayed at on Battery Point in Hobart, only had a honeymoon suite available. Despite trying to disguise its appearance by removing some of the fittings, when candidates arrived at reception, the hotel staff, made it known, that I was staying in the honeymoon suite, which made for an embarrassing start to the interview for some of the female candidates.
Once hired though, candidates were certainly not reticent in coming forward if they were at all unhappy with their placements. Fortunately, I was rarely a target, as I always tried to encourage realistic expectations. However, I did cop considerable stick, from the wife of a GP, that I placed in a hospital in the UAE, who decided to embark on an extra-marital affair there, before his wife could join him. At the time, she was expecting, which made the situation even worse. I suppose, on reflection, if I hadn’t introduced the opportunity to her husband, the marriage might have remained intact.
There were, however, some more moving and memorable encounters though, such as the Nephrologist I interviewed in Gladstone, who had just become a widower and was seeking a change. He ended up being recruited to a hospital in Dhahran, where he subsequently met an American dietician, who tragically died. This serves as a reminder of the extent of change, as a recruiter, one is responsible for, following that sixty-minute interview, that will perhaps go on to irrevocably change a candidate’s life.
I would like to think that for the most part, it was a change for the better, and if it wasn’t, I will always acknowledge the part that I played in making that change. Although I produced the dice, in terms of presenting an opportunity for a candidate, it was they, in the end, who chose to ultimately roll that dice.