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To work in Ireland, the UK, Australia or New Zealand?..the choice facing thousands of junior doctors

Posted Dec 04 2009 6:25pm

Posted by Dr. Thunder:

As a registrar, who has worked in Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, I thought it might be useful to share my experiences here, in the hope of helping other doctors decide whether they want to trek halfway across the world in order to ply their trade.

I've included my thoughts on each of the countries below, and what they're like to practice medicine in:

Ireland: Oh Jesus. Juniors are still working shifts up to 48 hours. The European Working Time Directive will be implemented shortly, which will reduce the working week of doctors to 48 hours. In order to maintain a service, while halving the hours of medical staff, the Health Service Executive have decided they will simply ask the overworked juniors to work twice as hard while they're on the job. Simple.

They will also be docking 30 mins per day from the wages of junior doctors for their lunch break. Just ask any junior doc if they get a lunchbreak. Even if they do, they're not allowed leave the hospital, and they still have to carry their pager. It's a total joke.
Another disadvantage of being a junior doctor in Ireland is that the media, and consequently the public, think you're overpaid and lazy.

The standard of medical care in Ireland is also likely to fall, as the universities adopt GAMSAT and PBL with gusto. It used to be very difficult to get a place at medical school in Ireland. Now, about 1 in 3 of those sitting GAMSAT get offered a place. Call it elitist if you like, but when I'm old and have a complex medical condition, I want someone who works hard and is brainy as hell treating me. To stop these GAMSAT graduates doing too much damage, nurse prescribing is also being introduced, which required the nurse to do about 6 weeks training to convert themselves into a doctor. Good times.

Patients also routinely wait several days in the emergency department corridors on trolleys for treatment, as there are not enough beds.

In the "pro" column, my family and oldest friends are in Ireland. So, I'll probably end up returning someday. But I'm doing postgrad qualifications so I can hopefully get a post in a university, or be based in Ireland whilw working for an aid agency.

The UK: Also not a great life for a junior. Here you will find an imaginary 48 hour working week. In fact, they monitor you to make sure you're not working extra hours, by getting you to fill out an "hours diary". Essentially, you are expected to lie on this form, so your employer can ignore the fact that you work an extra 10-20 hours per week for free.

My biggest peeve about working in the UK, was the famous "4 hour waiting time". This is possibly the greatest con in the history of medical politics. Essentially, what happened was the labour party government got tired of people complaining that they had to wait 12 hours in an emergency department to get treated. So, they announced

"From this day fortwith, no man, women, child nor beast shall wait more than 4 hours in an emergency department".

WOW, we all thought. That's going to require a hell of a lot of investment into acute services. Right?....Eh, yea,...sure.
Obviously there was minimal extra invgestment. So, what happens is....the patient turns up to a crowded A+E department, and is seen about 3 hours later. So, they have some blood tests taken, which won't be back until 4 hours are long gone. You'd like to get a specialist down to see the patient in A+E, but they won't be able to make it before their 4 hours is up.

The head nurse hassles the junior A+E doc to get this person home or onto a ward. "But I need to get the bloods to see what's going on". Doesn't matter. They cannot be here longer than 4 hours, or the whore-child of Satan shall rise and engulf the hospital in his flames of jizm.
So, you have to send them home and hope to God their bloods/xrays etc don't show anything untoward. Or that the pain doesn't return when the pain killers wear off after they go home. Or you hassle the admitting doctor on the ward to take them, even though you've no clue what's wrong with them.

So, the patient usually ends up getting admitted at 4 hours. Nothing serious wrong with them. But they now have to stay overnight because they've been "admitted".
Every doc who's worked in acute care in the UK will have had a nurse coming in to see them while they're seeing a genuinely unwell patient to remind them that there's someone much less sick outside who needs to be seen NOW as they're going to "breech" the 4 hour target. It's not the nurses' fault. They get it in the neck if these people wait more than 4 hours. Some units improvise, by removing the wheels from the patient's trolley. So, they're no longer "waiting on a trolley" in A+E, they're admitted in a "bed". It's genuinely soul destroying.

What's also soul destroying is the way jobs are allocated to juniors. I still don't fully understand it either. All I know is some amazing doctors are unemployed because of it, and some real muppets are doing well because they can tick the right boxes in their "self assesment portfolio" or whatever it's called. It seems juniors in the UK are rewarded for being good at paperwork, rather than being good at medicine.
Oh, and everyone in the NHS is now a "consultant" of some sort. Everyone is taking on a doctor's role on the cheap, and healthcare is going down the pan.

Most consultants are not interested in the plight of juniors, so it's a lost cause.

It breaks my heart to write the above, as the principles upon which the NHS is based should make anyone proud to live in a country where free good quality healthcare for all used to be a reality.

New Zealand: Lovely place to live. Lovely place to work. My experience was in a hospital that was off the beaten track. But the consultants would come in and help immediately if you have any dramas. Colleagues were supportive, and standard of living was good. Managers actually spoke to us, and consultants backed you up.
I ended up looking after some pretty sick people who should have been moved somewhere else, but they were too unstable to go the long distance. This is a recurring problem in this part of the world, because of the geography. I saw it as an opportunity to improve my critical care skills, and, as mentioned earlier, consultants were generally very supportive, so I never felt out of my depth

Highly recomment NZ as a working environment.

Australia: Great place to work, by and large. If you stay for any length of time, you'll probably end up working in an understaffed remote hospital with minimal senior support. But working in a city is well worth it. Great hospitals. Reasonable workload. Supportive consultants, by and large. Nice atmosphere too. Generally first name terms with your seniors. Hours are not too onerous, unless you work remotely, when you can end up doing 24 hour on-calls.
I usually got a l;unch break in oz, and when I finished late I got paid for it.
On the downside, their politicians tend to use health as a political pawn, as is the case in most countries. For example, the recent swine flu response was 50% medicall driven, and 50% political, which was disheartening.
But, while Ozzie politicians are the same as any others, I'd still recommend it as a place to work.

Major downside is that the universities recruit a LOT of GAMSAT students. IN my opnion, and it's only an opinion, these students are simply not that good. MANY og my colleagues share this view. But it's a quicker way to train, so it will be a case of standards being sacrificed to save money.

Hope that helps. feel free to add your own opinions in the comments box.

Dr. Thunder.
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