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Why Australian General Practitioners are happier than most

So how is your quest for work-life balance coming along?

If you are a family physician in the United States not so well according to a recent study published in JAMA. Doctors fare worse than the general population and frontline physicians are at greatest risk of “dissatisfaction” and “burnout”. Things aren't much better for General Practitioners in the UK. It would seem that General Practitioners world-wide are generally not having such a great time at work.

You might be wishing that you had chosen a career as an Icelandic hairdresser (apparently the happiest workers on earth). Assuming such a drastic change of direction is impractical, what else can you do to improve your overall quality of life and still derive some satisfaction from your chosen profession?

You should consider moving to Australia. We track the movements and motivations of many family physicians who are contemplating or have made such a move. By and large the feedback we get is that their move has been extremely positive and many report a renewed enthusiasm for their professional career.

So why should Australia be a haven for doctors in family practice compared to other countries? Firstly let's be clear about what is not wrong with General Practice. Most of our candidates are thankfully quite happy with patient contact and clinical work - after all this is pretty much what they signed up for and seems to be the one thing that keeps them from throwing in the towel.

The misery-inducing elements are invariably non-core to the profession itself - paperwork, bureaucracy, government interference, lack of professional freedom and financial recognition and, of course, too much work (and, by inference - not enough play).

So how does Australia fare by comparison to other countries? Here is what our migrating doctors report about work conditions in Australia:

  • Increased earning potential and being in charge of ones own income (uncapped earnings essentially)
  • Working largely for private practices rather than a national health service so not chasing targets or having to satisfy certain care criteria to get funding
  • Flexibility in working schedule – full time work is 38-40 hours and practices can often be flexible to how the working week is structured. 4 days a week is quite common
  • Broader scope and freedom of GP work practiced – e.g. ability to exercise minor surgical skills if desired, some ED aspect to roles, etc
  • The chance to work with remote or rural locations where your presence makes a significant difference to communities

And, of course, lifestyle is a huge draw:

  • The weather – generally a lot better than the UK for example
  • A more outdoor orientated lifestyle – the beach, the mountains, diving, snorkeling, hiking, running, swimming, surfing, sailing plus Australia’s love of sport and facilities to cater for pretty much any sporting interest
  • Excellent education system for those with families (especially now University fees have risen dramatically in England)
  • Affordable high quality housing in most areas
  • Access to nearby exotic holiday destinations (Asia, Pacific Islands, New Zealand)
  • A booming economy and therefore a sense of national optimism

Interestingly, in researching this article I could not find any studies on work satisfaction rates amongst Australian General Practitioners. Either this hasn’t been done yet or my research efforts came up short. I would love to see some more empirical data to back up our anecdotal findings so if you know of any studies please feel free to cite them.

One thing is for certain - there are far more family physicians moving to Australia and staying than there are leaving. The final vote goes to the feet.

Dr John Bethell

Director, Wavelength International

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Comments

  • Lexy 30/08/2012 7:20am (5 years ago)

    Nice one JB - makes me want to be a GP in Australia. Now just need that medical degree.....

  • Gary Nicholls 18/09/2012 11:57am (5 years ago)

    I'm really not sure about your statements of 'affordable, high quality housing' or cost of living John. Other than that - it's not bad being a GP in Australia!

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