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Postcards from...Tasmania

Ever wonder if the general practice grass is greener in another country? In this occasional series GPs who have made the move reflect on what life is really like. Here, Dr Andrew Croft writes about emigrating to Tasmania

Ever wonder if the general practice grass is greener in another country? In this occasional series GPs who have made the move reflect on what life is really like. Here, Dr Andrew Croft writes about emigrating to Tasmania

Even in somewhere as beautiful as Cornwall my days as a GP were typically busy and frustrating. Sitting at the desk of my St Ives surgery in December 2002 I realised that at the age of 37, this was not how I wanted to continue for another 25 years. My thoughts turned to our recent family holiday in Australia and in particular idyllic Tasmania.

After discussion with my wife Deb, a community nurse, and my two children Charlie and Rose, then 10 and nine, we decided to take the plunge. That was the easy part, telling my partners was more difficult. Tasmania is a little-known island state due south of Melbourne. It's approximately the size of Ireland, with the population of Cornwall at around 450,000. It is also reminiscent of Cornwall – green and lush with a similar climate and rolling hills. It has vast World Heritage areas with wild rivers, huge lakes, thick temperate rainforests, glacially carved mountains and tarns, all providing some of the world's best wilderness walking, fishing and rafting. It has a large, active Green movement that aims to keep the island pristine and unspoilt. Its climate is very English; none of the scorching temperatures of the mainland and no water supply problems. The seafood is spectacular and being a cool climate the large numbers of vineyards produce quality wines on a par with those of New Zealand.

Finding work

Finding employment was easy. In 1988, during my elective in Melbourne, I met a Tasmanian whose father was a GP in Tasmania. I hadn't planned a visit until then but was immediately taken. My wife and I returned in 1990 on our honeymoon, and then again in 2002 with our children.

A phone call to my old friend, then an email and I was in contact with the very helpful General Practice Workforce, the Tasmanian government-funded organisation with the role of recruiting GPs to work in the state.There are restrictions on where UK graduates can work – usually rural or semi-rural areas that sometimes have problems attracting an Australian graduate. Although Tasmania has its own medical school, the majority of graduates head to the brighter lights on the mainland. Any vocationally trained GP with the MRCGP will have no problems finding work. No more examinations are needed. You need to acquire the FRACGP but this is a paper exercise. Having said that, some of the bureaucracy involved in securing employment – medicals, police checks, visa applications, indemnity insurance, medical council registration – can seem daunting. However, General Practice Workforce guided me through the process.

The work

Unlike the mainland, the size of Tasmania means the distances are comprehensible to Europeans and as a result, you are rarely isolated in Tasmania. There are three main conurbations (Hobart, Launceston and Burnie) and wherever you work, you are never more than 40 minutes from a teaching hospital.

Sydney and Melbourne are one hour's flight away and the introduction of the budget airlines means the cost is minimal. Similarly classed jobs on the mainland could mean being hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest referral centre and having to perform procedural work, trauma management and obstetrics. As a result, the nature of the work here is very similar to my UK experience. Patients and their illnesses are the same the world over. Drug names and computer systems are slightly different but are all very easily adjusted to. GPs here are private practitioners and it is a business. It takes a while to get used to patients paying, but private means there is no government interference and you are not told what to do. You choose how long and hard you work. Remuneration is directly related to your workload. Most GPs work on 15-minute appointments. Paperwork is minimal and home visiting is rare. We have lunch breaks – and I go for my daily run during mine. Most positions do involve out-of-hours work, but all out-of-hours calls are triaged by a phone triage service and the workload is not onerous. There are some of the issues here with waiting lists and shortages, but not on the scale of the UK NHS. There is a much bigger reliance on the private sector; a lot of people are privately insured. A huge difference for me has been the easy access to investigations; same-day CT and ultrasound scans, which really improves the management of your patients. The GP system is behind the UK in some areas. Practice nurses are not as widely used here, so depending on where you work you may end up brushing up your phlebotomy, PAP smear and ear syringing skills. A lot of patients prefer to see the GP for these. It has actually been nice to be hands-on again.

Cost of living

Remuneration is less than UK GPs given the recent contract changes, but for the quality of life and vast improvement in working conditions, this is not an issue. The cost of living is so much less here, petrol costs around 45p/litre and house prices are a fraction of the UK. You really can afford to have that big house here with as much land as you want. The crime rate here is very low too.

State and public schooling here is excellent. My children had no problems adjusting, and are thriving. Sporting opportunities are huge. They attend the local grammar school, the oldest in Australia. School fees are a fraction of the UK equivalent. My wife has been able to pick up work as a nurse very easily. Obviously there are times when you miss your family and friends but the world is a very small place nowadays.Given all the above, we can never envisage returning to the UK. Whether you are looking for a sabbatical or a taste of something different before joining the rat race, I would thoroughly recommend Tasmania.

Dr Andrew Croft is a GP in Westbury, Tasmania, and an unpaid medical adviser for General Practice Workforce Tasmania

Is Tasmania for you?

PROS

• Lifestyle • Environment • Private practice • Longer consultations • Minimal interference • Less paperwork • Access to investigations • Lower cost of living • Cheap housing/land • Good schools

CONS

• Distance from family • Out-of-hours work • Lower remuneration • More hands-on

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