Sonographer moves from Chicago to New Zealand

Migrant stories

For US sonographer Karen Crowley, the biggest surprise about working in New Zealand was how easy it has been to achieve a great work/life balance.

Castle Hill, New Zealand
Karen Crowley at Castle Hill

“New Zealand was a country I always wanted to travel to because I knew how beautiful it was, and work was a way to get there,” says Karen, 36.

“The outdoors is as amazing as everyone says, but I didn’t know work/life balance would be so important and accepted in New Zealand.

“I was really surprised that Kiwis just assumed life shouldn’t be all about work – you should have time for a life outside work, too.”

Karen worked in a major hospital in her native Chicago before joining Canterbury District Health Board in New Zealand’s South Island in 2015.

It’s one of 20 district health boards around the country responsible for providing public health services in hospitals and the community.

Flexible working

Karen says Chicago has many top-notch hospitals, but working conditions are stressful and it’s hard to take time off. In New Zealand, all employees are entitled to four weeks’ paid public holiday a year, and it’s common to take a couple of weeks’ leave consecutively.

Another surprise for Karen was the popularity of flexible working. She’s part of a team of about 16 sonographers, many of whom don’t work a standard 40-hour week.

“I didn’t know anyone who worked part-time in the States, but almost all the sonographers I work in New Zealand are part-time. Most of them have young children and they want to organise their schedules around their families,” she says.

“My boss is amazing – if we need to change our work schedule for any reason, he does his best to honour that.”

Karen Crowley and friends

"I'm just really surprised that Kiwis assumed life shouldn't be all about work"

Work challenges

The biggest change in Karen’s working life has been working with both general cases at Christchurch Hospital and high-risk obstetric cases at the neighbouring Christchurch Women’s Hospital.

“That was a shock, but it didn’t take long to get used to it. Otherwise, it has been no different to going to another hospital in the US and having to learn new processes and computer systems,” she says.

“We’re paid quite well, and I’ve found it easy to settle in. Kiwis are very welcoming and helpful: they’re really happy I’ve come here and have been very willing to show me the ropes.”

Patients in New Zealand’s public health system are given 30-minute appointment times for ultrasounds, which is the same as Karen was used to back home in Chicago. The equipment and machinery are similar to what she was using back home. 

Outdoor adventures

Mt Hutt Ski Field

Mt Hutt ski field in Canterbury

New Zealand’s stunning outdoors drew Karen here, and she’s had lots of opportunities to go exploring.

Karen’s adventures have included heli-skiing in Mount Cook, swimming with dolphins in Akaroa and discovering the spectacular Milford Sound.

Her commute only takes 10 minutes each way, so after work, she has time to attend a yoga class or go to the beach. She hikes in the nearby Port Hills, and there’s excellent skiing less than two hours away.

Karen has now been granted resident status in New Zealand and will be entitled to apply to become a permanent resident in another two years.

“I didn’t know how long I’d stay when I first came to New Zealand, but it wasn’t long after I moved here that I decided I didn’t want to go back to the US,” she says.

“I’m always bragging to my American friends about how good my life is here.”

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