The way I see it

Is Oz for you?

Authors: Fiona Jackson 

Publication date:  11 Mar 2008

Well it is for Fiona Jackson

In the final of my vocational training scheme last year I felt quite torn to see a BMJ advert stating, “WORK AS GP—BEACH—QLD” in the international vacancies section. Out of sheer “could I really do this” and some coercion from my other half, I sent off an email with my CV attached. Less than five days later I had an offer of a permanent position and we suddenly had a rather large decision to make. Do we go for a safe “stay at home” option or take a leap in the dark?

Previous trip

Four years previously, I had worked in the hospital system in Queensland on a one year contract. My boyfriend decided he could, funnily enough, “handle a sabbatical” so off we both went. Returning to the United Kingdom had been difficult and we had both harboured daydreams of one day returning to Australia. But life goes on, so I got a job on the local vocational training scheme, he returned to work, we built a house, we scaled the Cumbrian fells, and I actually enjoyed being close to my family for the first time in 10 years.

So on the day in question, I was quite alarmed to realise that a role reversal had surreptitiously taken place over the previous three years. I had become quite attached to my roots and my family, whereas my partner was jumping up and down chomping at the bit to start packing, shipping, flying, and kissing the tarmac at Brisbane airport. Sensing a difference of opinion, we had a team talk in the kitchen that same week. It took him inside half an hour to convince me. “If we don’t do this now, we’ll never know, will we?” That was it, the same line he’d used to con me into building a house, but he knew I could tolerate anything but regrets.


With renewed enthusiasm and vigour, the preparations started. I remain eternally grateful to Health Workforce Queensland for their invaluable assistance with the whole registration, visa application, provider number thing. It took a little over three months to get all three, which is nothing short of miraculous considering it coincided with the Medical Board’s decision to introduce “credential verification” (see box). The house went on the market (where it remains), the furniture went in a container (ditto, but I have faith), the flights were booked, and our families looked at us like we were insane. Eventually we got something near acceptance of the situation from them all; our friends all booked their kids in for gap year accommodation in the future, so we had a huge leaving bash and, well, left.

That was three months ago and here we are in Yeppoon, central Queensland. I will not lie that it has been a piece of piss, but nor has it been a nightmare either, and it’s looking rosier by the day.

Running on time

I discovered I am a private general practitioner, which has definite pros (people have to pay to see you so generally have something wrong) and cons (people have to pay to see you so can have unrealistic expectations). Queensland’s healthcare system is still a mystery to me, and I fear I will still be trying to work out the billing system when I retire. But with a fantastic receptionist and nurse who have been doing it longer than I’ve been qualified, why worry too much about it? The woman I will be working with went off to have a baby two weeks after I arrived, which was no surprise, but still wholly distressing when it actually happened. I took over her patient load for the duration of her maternity leave and the practice is also busy ensuring I get plenty of my own cases too. Fortunately, she is always at the end of a phone and is unlikely to be off too much longer. In addition the English general practitioner who returned to the UK last year is already on his way back. Although work is busy, I am now running on time more often than not and am generally out of the building by 6 pm at the latest. The patients are a nice bunch, very appreciative and excited to have a permanent general practitioner, and I seem to keep seeing a fair few of them again so must be getting something right. As for on call, I apparently do that every other week but have yet to be called anywhere for anything and can usually be found at the beach.

My partner, who is a draftsman, discovered we have landed in the growth capital of central Queensland, which was mighty fortunate. He got a job within two weeks of being here. No more sabbatical for him this time. Outside work, things have fallen into place remarkably well. A friend in Brisbane knew a car dealer who helped us get a car in week one, hence rendering ourselves skint for a month (wouldn’t advise it) but at least we had a great big 4WD to drive up and down the beach. The local accountant’s dad gave us a fully furnished place to rent on the beach, which was lucky as it was looking as if the car was going to be more than a form of transport. The weather is still glorious (that cyclone missed us, obviously), the beaches are still endless, and the skies are still blue.

Not for everyone

So, all that said, what would I say to someone thinking of coming to rural Queensland for the long haul? It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, and would not suit everyone. Ask yourself a couple of things. Where do you live presently and why? If you could not survive without Harvey Nicks and the opera, this is not the place for you. Shops in Rockhampton close at 2 pm on Saturday and don’t even bother to unlock on Sunday. Also consider where you work presently and why; if you want a big teaching hospital on your doorstep with every specialist known to medicine within taxi distance, then look elsewhere. The nearest big teaching hospital is 8-10 hours away by car, and although Rocky (Rockhampton) is relatively blessed with specialists compared with other areas, they don’t cover all the bases.

If, however, the above do not appear in your list of priorities, and if you can take the rough with the smooth, would prefer a bit of a challenge, or simply a great big change, fancy living somewhere with a more laid back pace where pleasure is more important than business, wonder what 300+ days of sunshine a year look like, would like to plan a barbecue that you can have outside when you want it, would like to spend your weekends debating between snorkelling, sailing, or fishing (need I go on?), then see the paragraph above about avoiding regrets, and I will ask you—in the words of the Aussie tourism advert you may have seen before it was banned from British airwaves—“Where the bl**dy hell are you?”

Verification of credentials

In Australia, national policy requires that international medical graduates (including UK medical graduates) have their qualifications assessed by the educational commission for foreign medical graduates (ECFMG) international credentialing service via the Australian Medical Council. UK medical graduates must apply to the ECFMG international credentialing service, which is based in the United States, by sending a witnessed application form with two copies of each credential to be verified, a certified photograph, and a fee to the ECFMG from the UK. The service then sends a copy of each credential back to the issuing body in the UK with a request that it be verified.

Fiona Jackson general practitioner Yeppoon, Queensland, Australia

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: