I am about to move back to my hometown near the Welsh borders after living and working in East Anglia for five years. Less than a year ago, I was on the verge of making a much bigger move.
Grappling with difficulties in my personal life, stressed, exhausted and drowning in the sea of admin work of a full-time salaried GP, I felt that I had to do something. And I did. I applied for a job in Adelaide.
It seemed perfect. A friend of a friend had a vacancy at his practice there. I sent him my CV, we chatted on the phone and the next day I had a job offer. Speaking with him and his colleague, both British ex-pats with children of a similar age to my own daughter, I was encouraged to hear about the laidback pace of life, the wonderful environment in which to bring up children and a “work-life balance” which seems unattainable as a GP in the UK. All this, combined with the prospect of being twelve thousand miles away from the source of my personal stresses, was rather tempting.
It was while I was in the midst of visa applications and the process of certification with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners that doubts crept in.
I began to realise that I was not moving to Australia because I craved a leisurely, outdoor life or because working in the NHS was so terrible; I was running away from a stressful situation.
Any GP, anywhere in the world, needs to be able to deal with stress in whichever way works for them. Whether in the less salubrious parts of Norfolk or in a sunny beach suburb of Australia, there will always be paperwork, heartsinks, consultations which run for longer than ten minutes and diagnostic uncertainty to deal with.
Moreover, personal crises are not solved by crossing continents. Feeling guilty and awkward for making such a U-turn but certain that I was doing the right thing, I withdrew my acceptance of the job offer. Fortunately, my prospective employer was very understanding, even saying that I was welcome to get back in touch if I changed my mind in the future.
Since then, I have decided to return to working as a locum GP and limit my hours to what I can realistically manage. I have sought help with my emotional issues and have started to practise mindfulness as a tool for dealing with stress. I am very happy with my decision to stay in the UK.
Of course, there are many positive reasons one might have for choosing to work as a GP in Australia. There are opportunities to work in areas which one would never experience in the UK, for example Advanced Rural Skills Training in remote parts of the country, training in Aboriginal Medicine or working with the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service.
Depending on the part of Australia, the climate can be ideal for those who really value having fine weather all year round and for those who are passionate about outdoor pursuits. Furthermore, some may have relatives who have already emigrated there.
However, I would encourage those GPs who are currently considering a move to Australia, or indeed anywhere abroad, in order to have a better life, to ask themselves this – what in my life needs to change and do I need to emigrate in order for this to happen? I found that I did not and that the changes I needed to make were much closer to home.
Dr Sophie Rivett is a GP in Thetford, Norfolk.