Should I stay or should I go?

7 min | Medical Careers

One Surgeon’s stop-start Journey from Devon to Coastal New Zealand

When I got my first junior doctor job in Australia in 1991, finding the right job was a real chore. There was no Internet to speak of, which meant limited knowledge and therefore limited choice. And by the way - all correspondence went snail mail - both ways!

In short, making the move was something of a leap of faith.

I wanted to understand what it was like to take the same step today.  This is how I ended up having the pleasure of talking to Nigel Giles, an orthopaedic surgeon that Wavelength placed in Whakatane, NZ four years ago. When he moved, Nigel was a married father of three with a distinguished senior clinical and management career in the NHS behind him.

I was curious to know what prompted his family to uproot from their established, comfortable life in cosmopolitan Exeter, Devon to move to a small coastal town on other side of the world. His reasoning felt familiar. “We wanted to take a one-year sabbatical to try out a different lifestyle”.

Nigel had done his research with the help of the Internet. “We pretty much knew where we wanted to be so we just looked for job ads for those locations online”, Nigel told me.

So why use an agency, I wondered - why not just call the hospital direct? Nigel was very clear on this point. “I knew how much paperwork was involved and using an agency took a massive load off my shoulders ... everything went very smoothly.” It was a no-brainer for him.

I wanted to know more about his decision-making process so we talked about relative lifestyle and professional fulfilment between his new life and old. “I now live in a spacious, modern beachfront house with 3,500 square metres” he tells me – something that was unthinkable back in the UK.

He cycles to work now, and dropping the kids off at activities takes minutes. “My new lifestyle is fantastic. Everyone here has a ‘lets gets this done and go to the beach’ mentality – something I now share”.

Giles knows that professionally his job is less stimulating than the one he had in the UK but this reflects the size of the service he works in, and not the quality of healthcare in NZ – a compromise he is willing to accept in order to secure quality life for his family.

It seems that the Internet cannot entirely replace the experience of being physically present and Giles was shocked by the old 70’s style hospital when he arrived. However his initial concerns that the clinical care would be equally antiquated were quickly brushed aside as he became involved with the service.

“The staff are highly skilled and professional and there is a very positive culture in the hospital” he told me. The Whakatane Hospital has since been redeveloped and over the years he has found other ways to satisfy his need for professional stimulation by re-skilling and taking on some private practice, which he finds very rewarding.

Giles reflects on the system he left behind in the NHS. Although he had a lot of responsibility running a department, he admits that the recent squeeze on funding in the NHS has taken it's toll on everyone's morale. “We often had multiple cases backed up” he says “it was really frustrating not having the resources we needed to provide an adequate service”.

I had to ask the question - would he ever go back. “Definitely not”. His response was emphatic. The Giles family did go back for 6 months after their initial 18-month stint but this just helped to validate their decision. When did he first get an inkling that this could be a permanent move? He revealed the telling moment.

The first day they landed at the hospital the switchboard operator give them directions to their new accommodation. “It’s a little house on Ocean Road - the keys are hanging on the washing line” they were informed.

Ocean Road? It sounded promising, but it must be shabby indeed if the house keys were left in such an obvious place. When they pitched up they were delighted for find a modern, clean, spacious family home which backed onto the sand dunes behind the beach. The family dumped their bags and went to take in the salty Pacific night air.

Nigel confesses, “We pretty much knew right then…”


Written by Dr John Bethell, Director of Wavelength International

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