I attended a function last night in the town where I live and work, at which we hosted our young doctors and talked to them about life as a country doctor.
I always love meeting our young doctors. They are so fresh, full of life, vibrant and enthusiastic about Medicine and life and have not yet been ground down by what can become the daily grind of real life, if we allow it to be so.
We spoke about why we love living and working in the country.
I grew up in a small town, as the daughter of two doctors, and vowed I would never live and work in the country myself, yet here I am in my 60s, living and working as a rural doctor and loving it!
As a teenager, I found it claustrophobic growing up in the country. Everyone knew where I was and what I was up to (often no good!) and I would much have preferred the relative privacy and anonymity of growing up in the city. In the country, it is much harder to hide. People know where you live, what you drive, where you shop, and they meet you when you go out to eat, so you cannot separate your life and your work, and be an impeccable practitioner in your work life and a ratbag in your personal life and expect to get away with it!
But I love that now about country life. It brings home the reality that it is all one life, and that how I live in my personal life affects how I practice professionally, and how I am at work affects my relationships at home. I have to be transparent about myself and my life, and to stay connected with people, whether I am ‘off’ duty or ‘on’.
I get to know people, personally, as well as professionally, and am part of a community. People refer business by word of mouth, and the sound of my name precedes me. I have been practising in this area for 25 years now, and have cared for people and their families through those years, watching them grow up, and grow old.
In terms of work, being a specialist in the country allows me a broad range of practice that would not be possible in the city.
City specialists now tend to be so super-specialised that other qualified specialists can feel obliged to refer on many of their patients to those who are even more specialised in this area. This is so even when they have also been trained to deal with these conditions and are perfectly capable of doing so, leaving them with a small range of conditions to manage. My patients would have to drive for over two hours to the nearest city to see such a specialist, so I have learned to manage many complex conditions, often with the great help of my city colleagues, who are super supportive and only a phone call away. Because I practice in the country, I find such super specialists very collegiate and willing to support me to care for my patients myself, whereas I understand that life can be much more competitive and less cooperative in the city.
I also perform a broad range of operations, again many of which I would feel obliged to refer to someone even more specialised than myself if I were living in the city. So my professional life is interesting, rewarding and deeply satisfying.
And then there is the lifestyle.
I live in a lovely big house on an acre of land with gorgeous views of the countryside and hills. I have a picturesque 15 minute drive to work, where I park outside the tastefully renovated old house that is my office and there is plenty of parking for our customers too. Our local butcher, greengrocer and supermarket are a 5-10 minute drive from home and the beautiful beach of Byron Bay is a 30 minute scenic drive away. My life is light, bright and spacious and the sounds of birdsong are louder than the noise of the traffic.
When I go to the city, the noise, the intensity, the commute, the parking, the pressure, the competition, comparison and sheer force of getting ahead, making a name for yourself and making enough money to pay the mortgage and keep up with the lifestyle are deeply felt.
Sure, there are great shops, restaurants and modes of entertainment but after three days of enjoying them, I am ready to come home.
Now I am not saying that country life is for everyone, but it is worth considering.
As a young doctor, it is worth opening your eyes to all options before making the major life and lifestyle decision as to where you will live and work.
We have young registrars on rotation here and they love being with us, as the work is interesting, they get lots of operating, the pace of life is more relaxed and people are more open and friendly. Many of them would love to come here to live and work and the main stumbling block is family. Leaving family and friends and your social support network at a time when you have young children or are considering starting a family is a major consideration that usually pulls them back to city life.
I moved away from my family when I was pregnant with my first child and there were times when I did feel isolated and alone and could have done with a helping hand. But I never thought about giving up and moving back to the city. I loved the openness of people here and the willingness to support, even if they hardly knew me. I loved the fact that people understood I only worked three days a week because I had young children. I loved that day care was down the road and the primary school was literally across the road when my children were young, so that I was only a few minutes away if they ever needed me. I loved that my commute was a short scenic drive and that I could go for a walk on the beach before I went to work, or take the kids for fish and chips at the beach after work on a hot summer’s day.
If you embrace country life and the people who live it, you can make new friends and build support networks of people in similar situations and with the willingness to make it work, it will.
At the very least, you can give it a go, will gain lots of experience, and have a great time along the way.
And if you decide to go back to the city and re-join the faster, more intense pace of life there, you can bring the light, bright and spacious feeling that you enjoyed in the country to city life. We are all needed, bringing our all to work and life and whether you choose to live and work in the country or the city, it is a matter of finding out what works best for you.