Most overseas-trained doctors face the same dilemma when they look for a job in Australia – the tension between their own desire to live and work by the beach and the overwhelming availability of work in remote and out of the way places.
The reason for this is simple - supply and demand. Highly urbanised Aussie doctors just don’t want to go bush. So, if you want to dip your toe in the water you are far more likely to be dipping it in Lake Cargelligo than Sydney Harbour.
One of the challenges of selling life in rural or remote Australia is that the benefits do not lend themselves to punchy prose or dramatic imagery. It is hard to describe such nuances as the pleasure of living under a big sky or the smell of eucalyptus after a rainstorm. How do you convey a sense of community or job satisfaction in words? These are experiences not sensations - Sydney wins on sensation every time.
I faced the same dilemma myself as a PGY2 in the early 90’s when I was seconded from my cushy coastal job to a stint as a relief doctor in an outback community in Queensland. As I was to be the only doctor for a 200km radius I was apprehensive. As a single guy in my twenties I was mortified.
Of course almost nothing was as I anticipated. People were friendlier and more welcoming than I had expected. Patients were more stoical and the medicine much more interesting than I was used to. Landscapes, colours and smells were far more vivid than my puny imagination could have conceived. It was a true experience and I still dine out on the stories from that time.
Naturally I scurried back to the city as soon as my stint was up – back to my comfort zone. I have travelled many times since then through rural Australia on business or as a tourist and I have developed an enormous affection and respect for the countryside and its fascinating inhabitants.
I haven’t practiced medicine for 17 years now and my life has taken a very different course – one that has necessitated living in a metropolis. My only regret about giving up medicine…? I wish I had spent more time working as a doctor in the outback.
Dr John Bethell, Director
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