Locums for a Small World Blog

Want to practice medicine in Australia? Three doctors fill us in on work, play and the locum tenens lifestyle.

Posted by Everett Fitch

There’s no doubt about it…Australia is, in a word, vast. Now, when we say “vast” we mean it. No single word in the English language is more appropriate in encapsulating the true essence of Australia. This country contains, in elegant manner, a multitude of cultures, cuisines, dialects, landscapes, oceanscapes and cityscapes all within its 2,969,907 square miles.

You’ve got Western Australia with its picturesque Perth and Queensland with its shining Gold Coast. Then you’ve got the gritty yet charming feel of the outback in the Northern Territory and the craggy island atmosphere of Tasmania. And still there's more: in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

So yes, Australia is vast. To place any other adjective by its side would be tantamount to a disgrace. Three doctors who practiced medicine in Australia can testify to its welcoming greatness. They’ll tell you all about what to expect at work as well as what sights they experienced – in a nutshell, they’ll enlighten you on the locum tenens lifestyle here in Australia.

But before we get to their stories you should know that taking an assignment in Australia is about more than just the scenery. It’s about a life experience, a career change. It’s about being entirely immersed in a different culture and healthcare system. (Read: 3 interesting places to practice medicine in Australia plus a brief overview of their healthcare system.) Simply put, practicing medicine in Australia is a work experience you’ll never forget.

And as an Aussie would say, no worries: Your physician placement specialist will handle all the logistics along the way (licensing, registration, travel, etc.). They'll match you with a medical facility as well as put you in touch with the practice where you’ll be working. And if there’s a doctor who has practiced in that area before you’ll even have a chance to chat with them, help you get your bearings ahead of setting foot in the country.

All in all this process should take about three months once a job has been offered. If you’d like you can learn more about the requirements for taking a locum tenens assignment in Australia by visiting our Ask an Expert page. In the meantime, catch a head start on what to expect by reading all about the following doctors’ experiences below.

Isadore Unger, MD – Tasmania

On practicing medicine in another country:

For Dr. Unger, practicing medicine in another country – especially one with socialized medicine – presented a few challenges. “There were differences in language and terminology,” says Dr. Unger. “Interns were called house surgeons and residents were called registrars or 'reggies' for short. And surgeons are never called ‘doctor,’ they're addressed as ‘Mister.’” Kiwis and Aussies do speak English, but they not only have their own accent, they have a few of their own words. Fortunately, the nurses helped Dr. Unger translate the jargon. “One patient told me he felt 'like a box of fluffy ducks,’” says Dr. Unger, “Which I learned is 'great.’”

Rick Abbott, MD – Tasmania

On the differences between the U.S. and Australia’s healthcare system:

Beyond figuring out that a “long black” is Tassie's answer to a simple coffee, Dr. Abbott found out that both the healthcare system and work ethic are a bit different, too. “The ER was a great place to work. Because Australia is a national healthcare system, we had very little 'social safety net' to our practice and so we were a real ER. In other words, a very high proportion of our patients had an acute problem that required an acute intervention. We weren't trying to manage chronic disease that had nowhere else to go (as in the U.S.)." Dr. Abbott also praised Tasmania's implementation of an Emergency Medical Information Book (an organized booklet listing their medical and surgical history, active problem list, and current medications) that lots of patients carry with them.

On the adventures him and his wife, Jean Abbott, MD, had:

For his last month in Tasmania, Jean Abbott, MD (his wife, an ER doctor herself) joined him for some Tassie fun. The “Doctors Abbott” ventured to the capital city of Tasmania, Hobart, which serves as the home port for both Australian and French Antarctic operations. They also made their way to a few nature parks to see the wildlife that you'll only find in Australia: wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, kookaburras, and a lot more. They even saw Little Penguins or “Fairy Penguins” out on a quaint little Tassie beach. Ben Lomond National Park is a spectacular place and it's a haven for rock climbers, bushwalkers, and skiers. “Beautiful tundra - though we could only see a few feet of it at a time because of the thick fog,” Dr. Abbott says. “And wallabies were all over the place up there!”

Kathryn Starkey, MD – multiple assignments throughout Australia

On the experiences you won’t get anywhere else:

"You know when you come to Australia that you're going to see some kangaroos," she says. "What we didn't expect was to see them chewing on the putting green at the local golf course!" It was an event that became a nightly ritual for Dr. Starkey and her partner, Molly Evans, not to mention the famous marsupials. "Watching the kangaroos bounce in – a lovely movement in itself – and chew on the grass at sunset beat anything on the four TV channels," says Dr. Starkey. "And who ever imagines they'll be hiking along and see a platypus swim by on their webbed feet, right there in the wild? A platypus!"

On the reasons for taking a locum tenens assignment in the first place:

As Dr. Starkey tells it, “I had a gynecology practice in the Finger Lakes area of New York, but no life. I went to work early, got home late, had dinner, watched a bit of TV, went to bed, and then did it all again. I told my patients to take care of themselves, but I wasn't taking care of myself.” What she had done was keep a postcard from Global Medical, which inspired her to take action. “I told Molly to start planning; I brushed up on my OB work and we took an assignment a year later." Since then, Dr. Starkey has lost some 40 pounds; she respects a 9-to-5 workday and leads a balanced life. The primary requisite in each new area is a decent library. “I now have time to read, and I love to get books about the areas where we're living and dive into them,” says Dr. Starkey. “I learn the history, the geography, everything. It's fascinating.”

If it feels that you still have unanswered questions after reading these first-hand accounts then read the full stories and more. In fact, we have an online library of sorts you can visit. It's entitled The Locum Life – locum tenens stories told through the eyes of our own doctors. You'll find out more about what it's like to work in Australia, New Zealand and even the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Interested in practicing medicine in Australia right away? Go ahead and view our current locum tenens opportunities in the Land Down Under with the click of a button below.

Search for current physician openings in Australia


Topics: Australia, Tasmania, locum tenens lifestyle, Australian healthcare, Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, New South Wales, Dr. Kathryn Starkey, Dr. Rick Abbott, Dr. Isadore Unger

Doc Abbott rides again, part 2

Posted by Saralynn White

William Richard "Rick" Abbott, MD, is an ER doctor who loves a challenge. He met his wife, Jean, on his first day of medical school—when he was assigned to a cadaver with her—and 42 years later they're still colleagues, friends and lovers (TMI?). He's a clinical professor at the University of Colorado where, if our social media is anything to go by, he's very popular. He went to Tasmania on a locum tenens assignment for us and we've written about him in our newsletter. He put this experience into his own words:

Doc Rick AbbottWhen we last left Dr. Rick Abbott, he was telling us about participating as the “doc” on a charity bike ride through California and the fundraising efforts by the participants...

The charity facility - Velindre - has three cancer care “centres” at Cardiff in the south of Wales. Funded by Britain's National Health Service, it also has a fundraising arm. The charitable donations to Velindre have built a new hospital wing, funded research and provided niceties for patients—especially those without family support. It has also helped fund outreach programs for those living some distance from the centre, like remote chemotherapy infusion locations.  

The required contribution to ride in this event was about $7,000 USD and as we rode along, I heard the stories of what people did to raise money: golf tournaments, music festivals, garage sales, auction off the kids to clean your house or weed your gardens, etc. Schools raised money by selling "no uniform days" for a British pound per day. One rider's wife is a professional opera singer and they "busked" (the term for what’s basically a street performance). In this case, the couple dressed up and did a funny show while she and her voice students sang—
a long way from her other gigs at the Met and La Scala.

describe the imageCardiff in Wales



One poker tournament with 1,000 pound purse raised 8,000 pounds and went until 4 a.m. There was a lot more, but what impressed me so much was that not one person I talked to came in anywhere near the required minimum $7,000 USD for the trip contributions—they all beat it!

Some of the participants were connected to the centre because family and friends had been treated there; some were employees of the centre; some were just there to do some good. We had Olympians and even a few Para-Olympians. Some of the riders were experienced cyclists; some had never ridden any real distances; and all reported this event was the hardest thing they'd ever done.

The Wales countrysideCyling for charity through central California








So, here's what struck me about all of this: There's a tendency for Americans to think of a National Health System as purely a governmental entitlement. In the UK, anyone can walk into a hospital or medical office and get care. No paperwork, no cost, no payments, no fighting with the insurance companies—just sit back and let them take care of you. But, this gang of Welsh riders taught me about a part of the NHS that had only previously been hinted at: There really is more.

The volunteers, contributors and other folks make a huge effort to do something for an important institution, and ultimately they make the institution far better: more user-friendly and up-to-date than it would be without the help. I liken it to a street that is installed by a city government: the neighbors plants flower beds, spruce it up with sculptures and even add some nice benches—all to make the basics better.

I was impressed by the whole concept and even more impressed by the individuals who made the effort (including the community back home who supported them). Oh, yeah, the scenery and the cycling were great, too.

Monterey Coast in CaliforniaTwilight at the Golden Gate Bridge

Topics: Dr. Rick Abbott, San Francisco

"Doc" Rick Abbott rides again (part 1)

Posted by Saralynn White

describe the imageWilliam Richard "Rick" Abbott, MD, is an ER doctor who loves a challenge. He met his wife, Jean, on his first day of medical school—when he was assigned to a cadaver with her—and 42 years later they're still colleagues, friends and lovers (TMI?). He's a clinical professor at the University of Colorado where, if our social media is anything to go by, he's very popular. He went to Tasmania on a locum tenens assignment for us and we've written about him in our newsletter. He put this experience into his own words:

I've had some great experiences doing things that came out of nowhere and were unplanned (and probably should have been thought out better). A couple of years ago, I took a "cold call" directed to my wife asking if she might be interested in a job in Australia. I said she wouldn't, but I might. About eight months later I was just north of Antarctica, working in Launceston—a former penal colony in Tasmania—at what is their finest hospital (in my opinion).

Then about a month ago Global Medical (the same folks who sent me to Australia) contacted me with a request: would I be willing to volunteer as a medic on a week-long bicycle ride for charity. Scott Wilson, the recruiter, knew I was an avid cyclist so a few calls and emails later I was ensconced as the "Doc" on the ride.  

We rode from beautiful Yosemite Valley, through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, across the windy flats of the San Joaquin Delta, out to the California coast, and then south to the highlight of the trip—across the Golden Gate Bridge. The scenery was incredible, the camping was delightful, the food was good...yada, yada, yada.

San Juaquin Delta in CaliforniaYosemite Valley

But wait! There's more...

There actually was some medical stuff to do. One rider used her face to do an imitation of a broom sweeping up the road and got rather colorful set of facial abrasions and bruises. One rider had a fractured radius and rode in a cast. And one who was three weeks out from a pelvis fracture and had to use crutches to get to the bicycle but rode for at least part of each day. By the way, the charity supplied a kit (which they use for all of their fundraising "expeditions) that included stuff for high altitude sickness and even a pregnancy test!

In California's Central ValleyMade it to the bridge!





But wait! There's more...

Did I mention the group was from Wales? It’s one of the reasons that I was interested in this "job". My family emigrated from there in 1906 and it turns out one cyclist lives on the outskirts of the town where my family came from. Many of the riders knew the town well, explaining it recently underwent a “rehab” and is no longer a pile of run down old mines and slag heaps, but "green" and pleasant. I even learned how to say "Hi" in Welsh - though since I can't gargle well enough to speak Welsh words, the pronunciation of "shwmai" is a mystery to me. 

The finish line The iconic Golden Gate Bridge







But wait! There's more...

I knew basically nothing about the charity the ride was for—Velindre, a cancer care center (or "centre" as it were) at Cardiff in the south of Wales (much smaller in population and area than my home state of Colorado). Google helped me and the group helped even more, but that’s another story for another day. I will tell you this: the required contribution to ride in this event was about $7,000 USD and fundraising efforts covered the gamut...

Topics: Dr. Rick Abbott, San Francisco

Locums for a Small World Blog

Twice a month, our inquisitive locum tenens community asks us to tackle topics ranging from cuisine and culture to recreation and entertainment. We also include great storytelling from our doctors. Have a topic you’d like to read about? Let us know.

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