GP Careers - A GP's life in Cairns, Australia

Dr Deepa Gadhvi on the attraction of working in a challenging tropical climate.

As skin cancer is so common in Australia, GPs will often be required to perform minor surgery (Photograph: SPL)
As skin cancer is so common in Australia, GPs will often be required to perform minor surgery (Photograph: SPL)

Most of us dream of packing a suitcase and leaving routine and rain behind. This dream became a reality for me when I, along with my family, travelled 9,402 miles to start a new life as a GP in Cairns, Australia.

In Cairns, general practice is very different with tropical diseases, skin cancer and Aboriginal healthcare to contend with. However, it is often this variety that encourages doctors to move from the UK to practise abroad.

I spent time in my early career with tribal communities in India and I decided to permanently move to a tropical climate after discovering the wealth of opportunities available in Australia.

Challenge
In Australia I work with tropical medicine, which is a great challenge. There are several tropical diseases that exist in Cairns, including dengue fever and Ross River virus.

I have ordered tests for patients who have presented with what appears to be a simple virus but turns out to be something more sinister. GPs have to think laterally because there are illnesses here that we would not come across in the UK.

They also need to have a broad outlook, especially when dealing with Aboriginal patients who are susceptible to rheumatic fever and TB.

There is an Aboriginal health service near the practice and we provide the overflow for them when they cannot take any more patients.

Aboriginal patients often prefer to see us because the health service can be quite intimidating. They can easily bump in to several members of their family, which can be awkward and means they have less privacy.

I also see travellers from Asia and the Pacific so there is a strong chance I will soon be dealing with malaria patients.

Part of Australia's attraction is the diversity of healthcare settings that provide such a wealth of professional opportunity. General practice tends to be more procedural here, which makes professional life more interesting.

In the UK, I rarely did any minor surgery but skin cancer is so common in Australia that anybody who comes in with a lump or lesion has it removed there and then. We also deal with wound dressings and minor injuries instead of referring to the A&E departments.

As a female GP I also treat the antenatal patients, which I particularly enjoy. In the UK the midwives take over this care from the start of the patient's pregnancy to when she gives birth.

Lifestyle factors
Many overseas-trained doctors cite lifestyle factors as their primary motivation for coming to Australia. My family and I left the UK because we wanted to experience the sun, sea and outdoor life.

We approached an international recruiter who helped us to assess all of our options and we chose Australia because it was a better for us financially. Buying a house here is still relatively cheap in comparison with the UK.

Rural practice
The Australian authorities often place international medical graduates in rural areas but there are still opportunities to be found in Sydney and other large cities.

I decided to live in north Australia because of the tropical climate. Having worked in rural India with indigenous communities in the past, I was keen to go somewhere rural again.

The practice is still in its early stages of development. We are building our patient base and one way of attracting patients is to charge insurance companies directly rather than the patient.

Most surgeries will charge a consultation fee, which we are not doing at the moment.

Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The balance of public and private healthcare means Australians can chose how they receive medical treatment.

Australia's healthcare system
The private healthcare system makes a big difference to doctors here.

Doctors bill per patient and only get paid for the patients they see, so having a patient come into my room is positive because there is a financial incentive. I find that I have a much better attitude towards the patients.

In the UK, you get paid irrespective of the number of patients you see. My husband and I completed our GP training 10 years ago and a lot has changed since then.

We have both worked in varied positions in hospitals and health centres. I found that general practice was designed around meeting targets rather than seeing patients and I spent large portions of my day doing paper work.

In Australia, with healthcare being largely private, you must provide a service that is worthy of charging.

GPs have an important role in Australia's healthcare system and are usually the first point of contact for someone seeking medical help.

As a result, GPs are highly valued, particularly in rural areas, where they are warmly welcomed by the residents of these local communities.

  • Dr Gadhvi is a former Liverpool GP, currently working in Cairns, Australia.

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