And we are off! I look across at my children’s faces full of fear and anticipation. I never actually thought this day would come. We have had the clear out of our life, packed up a house and have said enough goodbyes to last a lifetime. We are moving. Australia here we come!
As a GP I have the privilege of learning lots of intimate details relating to my patient’s lives. It’s important the consultation is all about the patient but it is also perhaps relevant for my patients to understand more about the motivations around my immigration story.
As cliched as this may sound, I always wanted to be a doctor. From the age of seven I had set my sights on this goal and I was determined to succeed. There was no medicine in my family but I had amazing support from my parents who were an engineer and a teacher. I’ll never forget the bunch of flowers my dad sent me following my final school exams. I was at my Saturday job and the results were still to follow. The card simply read, “we are proud of you, whatever the results.” I hope I now parent in a similar vein. I wasn’t let down when that results envelope did hit the doormat and I realised my dream of being accepted for Medicine at Edinburgh University.
This is where my love affair with Edinburgh began! Most people’s impression of Scotland’s Capital City lies in its World Heritage city centre dominated by the iconic Edinburgh Castle, and the International Fringe Festival. But to me, the wonders of Edinburgh lie in its quieter streets between student accommodation and the university. I still walk these streets in my dreams. It was during my time as a medical student that my love affair with Australia also began. I was fortunate enough, during my fifth year of medical school, to have four months to study medicine abroad. I chose to spend half of this time in Malaysia and the remainder in the Sydney Cancer Care Centre at the Royal Prince Alfred. It was during this time I had a long weekend in Melbourne. Melbourne instantly had me smitten! Helped by a healthy dosing of sun, tennis at the Australian Open and the food!
With the Australian Open, Manly Ferry, the Opera House and The Great Ocean Road fading into the distance, I embarked on medical finals and life as a junior doctor. I could write a book (many junior doctors have!) about that time of my life. It was a daunting time – my first day as a doctor and being on-call for twenty four hours covering surgical high dependancy with the next doctor in charge being at home! The nurses became my best friends and the learning curve was exponential. It was then I realised the most important lessons of medicine were to know your limitations and understand you were part of a team. Invaluable lessons for General Practice today.
I had decided early in my childhood that I wished to be a GP, so my junior doctor training was geared towards this from the outset. During my psychiatry placement I had a thought maybe that’s where I should land and as a result spent eighteen months in that speciality before appreciating I was a generalist. Reflecting on that time now I realise I was on the equivalent of Minecraft “survival mode”. Sleep was a luxury and commitment to any regular team or activity was impossible. Despite this I am strangely nostalgic about it all. I made bonds with colleagues, appreciated how I fitted into a team and hopefully cultivated communication skills that would become my most important asset in General Practice.
Following five years of hospital training I embarked on General Practice training before sitting more exams and becoming a fully fledged GP.
Somewhere in this timeline of exams and no sleep I did meet my husband, and we were blessed with two children, now 11 and 7. My husband and I were at high school together but he was “too cool” playing rugby and I was too involved in chemistry experiments to actually spark any chemistry! Fate happened though when we were in second year of university. He’s an architect and provides a healthy prescription of creativity to our world. My daughter has some of those genes, my son…… he has different attributes!
Edinburgh then provided the backdrop for fourteen years of General Practice. My initial year was spent as a locum in a variety of practices throughout the city before becoming a partner firstly in a city centre location and then in a more suburban setting. General Practice in Scotland was set up to serve the community in which you worked. As a result you became part of that community and in turn you learned to understand your patient’s health in the context of their social habitat, as well as being part of their entire family’s health journey. As I reflect on these fourteen years I now appreciate those periods which were most challenging were also my most rewarding. General Practitioners have the true experience of “cradle to the grave” care which is a privilege as we walk through life’s highs and lows with our patients.
With Brexit, a strive for Scottish Independence, and a failing NHS now unfolding, this childhood dream of being a GP was beginning to feel like a bit of a nightmare. Politicians are fighting over themselves whilst the UK’s National Health Service is on its knees and the goodwill of its staff is running thin. As a parent and GP I had the impossible choice of changing the narrative for my children to one of hope and positivity versus leaving family, friends and the NHS.
Australia had always been the talked about “if only” for us – “if only” I had taken a year out and gone back; “If only” we had gone on an extended holiday; “If only” I had retuned there to work. The dialogue had to change and it dawned on me that I was indeed lucky to have a degree and skills which I could bring to another country. After a lot of surprise, admiration, support and tears our family and friends set about helping us to achieve this new vision and in March 2017 we arrived, shell shocked and knowing no-one!
It would be remiss of me to say it has all been plain sailing! The job I relocated my family for didn’t exist when we arrived. That was a low point but resilience is an attribute only learned through adversity! My children have personified this attitude by throwing themselves into school life, sport, music and new friendships. I realised I had a slightly different dialogue to learn – trousers are pants, football is soccer, flip-flops are thongs! Professionally, I encountered different names for drugs, differing protocols to refer patients and of course the abyss of Medicare.
My husband and children tell me they see a bit more of me (they also tell me this is a good thing). I feel I have more autonomy and worry less about the politics. I spend more time with my patients which is closer to that seven year old girl’s dream!
The twenty one year old me leaving Australia would have seen it’s highlights in the climate, beaches, wine, sports and laid-back culture. I smile as I write this realising that Australia is those things but so much more. It’s a place to now call home, it’s welcoming, provides hope, and is our future.
I am delighted to be joining The Station team and I look forward to meeting with you and your family in 2019.
Thanks for reading!