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Life on track


Life on track

Otago medical alumnus – and Ernst and Young’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Dr Sam Hazledine knows all about work-life balance. Now he is sharing this philosophy through his business MedRecruit, creating win-win situations for doctors and hospitals alike.

A head injury could have ended then-undergraduate Sam Hazledine’s hopes of becoming a high flier in the disparate worlds of medicine and extreme skiing.

Instead, it led him to rise to the challenges of re-evaluating his life and getting it back on track.

Now, as an accomplished doctor, skier, businessman, and Ernst and Young’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Hazledine believes his successes stem from his accident.

In 2002 he was a final-year medical student at Otago. “Med school opened up all kinds of possibilities for me. I made some of my best friends there and it was a fantastic time of my life. I absolutely loved it.”

He also loved the social life, but everything came to a halt late one night outside the Captain Cook Tavern, when he attempted a back flip off a wall and landed on his head.

“I was in a coma for a couple of days and I wasn’t expected to make a full recovery. The prognosis was that I would never be able to function at a high level.

“Our vision is to enrich lives and we focus on building long-term relationships more than short-term gains.”

“I’d been living day to day and pushing the limits – I was reckless – but this was a wake up call and gave me a challenge. I realised I needed to raise my standards in life, set some goals and become the person that I needed to be to achieve those goals.”

Apart from his medical degree, Hazledine had been working towards national skiing championships and he was unwilling to let either of them go. He quit drinking and pushed hard to get his life back. Within three months he had returned to med school, in six he had met the girl he was to marry, and in 12 he took out the annual New Zealand championships in extreme and free skiing.

“You have good days and bad days in life, and you don’t know which is which at the time. While it might have seemed like a bad day when my parents got the call from the hospital at 2 am, it turned out to be a good day in that it changed my life. I was forced to grow.

“I had to raise the bar just to get back to normal, but the lessons I learned doing that taught me I could raise the bar – and could keep raising it.

“Otago also showed me the importance of good leadership and how good people can help get you through challenges. Associate Professor Dave Gerrard really helped me out. He believed in me as a student, even if I messed up – and if good people believe in you, you can do anything.”

After a year skiing professionally, Hazledine worked at Dunedin Hospital and then headed to Australia to do locum work, where he discovered it was possible to combine gaining medical experience with a good lifestyle and money.

“At the time, many junior doctors didn’t realise you could do that,” he says. “It’s one reason they get burned out and disillusioned, and helps explain why some 25 per cent leave medicine within three years of graduating.”

Hazledine saw a niche opportunity in linking doctors who wanted a change with hospitals that needed doctors, and the idea for MedRecruit was born.

Although there were other medical recruitment agencies in the market, Hazledine felt they were not responding adequately to the needs of doctors and, ultimately, hospitals.

“Our focus is doctor-centric. We find out what doctors want in terms of career, finance and lifestyle and, through thorough profiling, we can match them to appropriate hospitals, so placements work.

“There’s a shortage of doctors, so hospitals benefit from getting the right staff. The hospitals know the doctors are going to be a good match because of the time we put into selecting them.

“Less-stressed doctors practise better medicine and a better medical workforce is better for patients, so everybody gains.

“What we offer is not for everyone – it’s particularly relevant to those who feel the need to get their belief in medicine rejuvenated, or anyone wanting a more permanent change. You can take a break and have some fun and make some money and gain new experience all at the same time.

“And we are always evolving, from just providing locum solutions to now offering the full spectrum, from locum to permanent: we’ve got something for any doctor considering a change.”

Hazledine started MedRecruit in 2006 with the support of his wife Claire, an Otago graduate who left her public relations job to help get the new company off the ground.

“Claire was absolutely critical to helping me achieve this dream of mine. She backed me, doing all the grunt work setting up. We were not afraid to fail and we did fail a lot, but we got it right sometimes and now we are getting it right more frequently.

“Having people who believe in you really helps, but you also have to have an unshakeable belief in yourself to counter critical people who try to tell you what you can’t do.”

By 2008 Hazledine was in the running for Young Entrepreneur of the Year. “I didn’t get it, but I did get great advice that I’ve applied. They said get some more runs on the board, get the business going in Australia, build a management team and get more staff.

“Now the more success we have, the more I realise what I don’t know. I’m not so big to say I know it all. I surround myself with some of the best people in the world as mentors and I hire people who are better than me in their areas. I provide the culture and business and lead the team.”

Hazledine believes that the service provided by his staff is key to the success of MedRecruit.

“It’s important to invest in your staff and show them what is possible so that they can grow. I know they will probably move on eventually, but it’s still important to encourage and inspire them so that they have a positive experience while they are with you.”

About 30 staff are split between MedRecruit’s Queenstown base and its Australian operation, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the business.

Hazledine sees no problem with sending New Zealand graduates to Australia.

“We mainly recruit Australian doctors for Australia, but we do send a few Kiwis and we get criticised for that because of the brain drain. But New Zealand is a small country and talented young people will always want to experience different things.

“We are much more likely to keep them long-term as doctors if they don’t burn out and if they get wider experience. Most of the doctors we send to Australia stay for a couple of years and come back.

“You can’t restrict graduates and hold on to them. Instead, we should encourage people to follow their passions and we should put our efforts into making New Zealand such an attractive system that they will come back.

“We should put the focus in the right place – on the upside – to make the country great.”

Hazledine has been asked about extending his medical recruitment philosophies to other professions, but for now he’s sticking with his core business.

“Part of our success is keeping our niche focus. We know doctors. We are passionate about helping doctors have a better life. If we do expand we are most likely to consider nurses, who have similar challenges and similar opportunities.

“Our vision is to enrich lives and we focus on building long-term relationships more than short-term gains.”

Long-term goals can mean making sacrifices. Hazledine’s hopes of representing New Zealand at the 2014 Winter Olympics have not been realised.

“I trained hard in 2011 and was competitive, but to do well in the Olympics you have to do it full-time. It was a good learning experience, but I had to give it away. That goal was always going to have to come second to family and business, and it was an easy decision to make.”

With a growing family – his two-year-old daughter is already skiing – and a growing business, Hazledine is realistic.

“I still believe you can achieve anything, but you just can’t achieve everything at once.”