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Living the dream

We talk to British doctor – and berry farmer – Dr Lucy Reed, Director of Emergency Medicine at Launceston General Hospital, about her adventurous ED career and love of Tasmania.

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Even by emergency physician standards, Dr Lucy Reed has had an energetic and adventurous career. No sooner had she graduated from Birmingham University than she skilled up as an expedition doctor and left the UK to roam the world, working in diverse locations such as Outer Mongolia, Tibet, Chile, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro), Morocco, Switzerland, New Zealand and Nepal. Staying in one place has not been in her nature. 

And yet, Lucy has just broken her own four-years-max-then-move-on rule to extend her time in Tasmania ... indefinitely. This August she accepted the role of Director of Emergency Medicine at Launceston General Hospital. 

Her decision has caught even her by surprise. Perhaps having a husband, two young children and a 70-hectare berry farm to call home has tempered her enthusiasm for packing up and moving on. But Lucy admits there are more profound reasons for staying. 

I called her at home to find out a bit more about the pull factors that have persuaded her to stay put. 

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Life on the farm

“I love it here,” she tells me over the phone, as she describes the sunset view of virgin bush from her porch. “We moved to Tassie on a whim, assuming it would just be another brief adventure, but we feel very settled now.”

She waxes lyrical about their Bay of Fires weekender where they spend Christmas Day on a deserted white sand beach. She talks with affection about her farm - ducks, sheep, pigs, goats and more fresh berries than you can consume in a lifetime.

“We sold our two-up two-down in Gloucester and exchanged it for all of this,” she tells me. “Our new lifestyle is incomparable.” In the UK her commute to Bristol was well over an hour on a good day. “From downtown Launceston to my farm is 20 minutes - you can add five minutes during rush hour.”

Leaving the NHS behind

Like many of us, Lucy follows with morbid fascination the goings on in the NHS. She talks about the differences of working in Australia. “Over here you own your emergency department,” she tells me. “You can make decisions autonomously and carry out procedures, such as intubations, without having to wait for an external anaesthetist to turn up. Overall it’s just so much less political than the NHS and morale is higher.” 

She also loves the medicine. “We have great variety and high acuity here in Launceston. We serve a very mixed community and anything can walk through the door.”

Her work conditions suit her too. “I work my 48 hours in four shifts and then I’m done.” Plenty of time for family and outside interests 

She sees other benefits of working in a small town. “I know all the specialists in the hospital well. Their kids go to school with mine - I see them at footy practice. You can get to know them as human beings which makes for better professional interactions.”

“In Australia you own your emergency department. You can make decisions autonomously and carry out procedures, such as intubations, without having to wait for an external anaesthetist to turn up. Overall it’s just so much less political than the NHS and morale is higher.” 

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State-of-the-art ED facility built for the future

Since her arrival Lucy has seen amazing progress at the hospital. “We have a brand new emergency department built in 2012, and there are plans and funding to develop a short stay unit, so there’s no lack of stuff to do.” 

She’s obviously proud of the department. “We have a state-of-the-art facility that has really been built for the future,” she enthuses. “And we have space, so much space!” 

Plus, it’s an interesting time for the department. The previous director stepped aside after 25 years and Lucy agreed to manage the department where she’s previously worked as a clinician and the director of emergency medicine training.

She has avowed to help build a team for the next 25 years. “I love clinical work and teaching,” she says. “But I feel passionate about steering the department successfully through this transition period.” 

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Sense of pride 

Lucy has a real sense of pride in her place of work. “We have such an amazing team of doctors and the nurses are wonderful,” she says. “They’re resourceful and have a real can-do attitude. We’ve faced some very challenging days together but we all work through it when the going gets tough. There’s great camaraderie.” 

As a trainer she’s been very impressed with the quality of registrars passing through. “They’re hungry to learn,” she tells me. “We have 12 months of accreditation but they can also do a stint in anaesthetics or ICU. They generally stick around for 18 months if they can.” 

Lucy has found her interaction with her patients in Launceston very rewarding. “Tasmanians are such stoics,” she says. “They don't complain. They’re just glad to be treated and it feels nice to be so wanted and needed.” 

Lucy admits that, as her four-year deadline approached, it was her sense of loyalty to her colleagues and the community that was probably the biggest deciding factor in convincing her to stay. She finally has a real sense of place - of belonging. It’s a good feeling. 

“We have such an amazing team of doctors and the nurses are wonderful. We’ve faced some very challenging days together but we all work through it when the going gets tough. There’s great camaraderie.”

Home is where the heart is

I find Lucy very easy to talk to. She’s clearly a committed, passionate and social person. I get caught up in her enthusiasm. So much so that I lose track of time. I’m in a warm office and she’s now freezing on the porch - the sun has evidently set in Tasmania.

I have one last question for her. “Would you ever consider returning to work in the UK?”

“Not a chance! 

Wavelength are currently recruiting for a number of senior ED roles at Launceston General Hospital, including Emergency Medicine Consultants and Director of Emergency Medicine Training. View the video and visit wave.com.au/launceston to find out more, or contact Carol Holly Smith (csmith@wave.com.au).

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