Expat GP says Northland offers amazing opportunities for junior doctors

10 January 2022

GPEP year 1 registrar Dr Liam Watson is thrilled to have landed in Northland after several years working in a diverse range of New Zealand locations, from Invercargill to Whangarei.

Having arrived from the UK in 2017, Liam intended to spend a year or so working and travelling in New Zealand before returning home. However, within months of arriving, Liam says life, and more specifically love, intervened, and he found himself in happily ensconced in a new relationship and new job at Hospice Southland, followed by a stint at Southland Hospital in Invercargill.

“I don’t quite know what I had expected before I arrived, but I have really appreciated the openness and friendliness of the people that I’ve met in my work so far,” Liam says.

Liam is originally from England’s South-East and studied in Newcastle before completing two very different placements: The first was two years at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough with a four-month stint at an inner-city GP practice. Middlesbrough was well known for its steelmaking and industry, but post-industrialisation led to high unemployment and the emergence of socio-economic issues that now pose a significant challenge for public healthcare providers. 

Liam says working in general practice in Middlesbrough taught him a lot personally and professionally, solidifying his passion for working in primary care.

“I had to learn to become an advocate for my patients and understand there were many factors that might interfere with their access to healthcare services or their ability to stick with a healthcare plan and follow the medical advice they were given.”

“The lifestyle here (Northland) is incredible and its such a beautiful part of the world, but it’s also a fantastic community to work in."

Liam’s next placement in Royal Tunbridge Wells was almost the complete opposite experience.

“In contrast, my placement in Kent demonstrated the vast difference that deprivation makes to health outcomes, and also the difference in the work you do as a medical professional serving these very different kinds of communities.”

When Liam arrived in Southland in 2017, these experiences had prepared him well to get stuck in and make a difference. 

“Although Southland is more isolated than New Zealand’s main centres, residents there still enjoy relatively good access to healthcare services. I was pleased to be able to support my patients to get the best possible care.”

From there Liam and his partner did a stint at Christchurch Hospital before deciding to head back to her home province of Northland.

After one more hospital-based role at Whangarei Hospital, Liam became intent on making the move into general practice permanently. 

“I think I’d always known that I’d like to go into general practice, particularly after that first placement in Middlesbrough. I loved the variety, the interaction with patients and the challenge of the work.”

“I decided to enroll in the General Practice Education Programme, and we moved even further North where I took up a position at Dargaville Medical Centre where I’m currently employed.”

Liam says he really loves the work and the people and has had the privilege of taking on medical issues he wouldn’t deal with in more urban centres. 

“I’ve never met so many farmers in my life,” Liam says.

“We’re a bit of a one stop shop as we run an acute walk-in clinic, and you never know what is going to come through the door, from chest pains to minor injuries – it keeps me using a variety of skills that would otherwise fall by the wayside.”

Liam says he has also had the privilege of learning from rural GPs with specialties in areas of medicine like ophthalmology and dermoscopy - specialties that are in demand in rural areas.

“One of the highlights and challenges of working in Northland, particularly as an English doctor, has been to learn about Māori culture, Te Reo Māori and Māori medicine or Rongoā Māori.”

“I had to learn to become an advocate for my patients and understand there were many factors that might interfere with their access to healthcare services or their ability to stick with a healthcare plan and follow the medical advice they were given.”

“I’ve had the privilege of working alongside iwi health providers on several occasions and I’m very keen to grow my understanding of the culture and the unique healthcare challenges so that I can best serve the community here.”

Liam says he would highly recommend Northland as a destination for medical professionals.

“The lifestyle here is incredible and its such a beautiful part of the world, but it’s also a fantastic community to work in. There are a lot of socio-economic and cultural challenges to overcome here, but if you’re eager to play a role in reducing inequality in the health system and helping patients accessing the best possible healthcare regardless of their location, it’s a great place to be.”

“There are never enough GPs anywhere, and it can often feel like there is never enough time to do all that you want to do for a patient, but up here I’ve found a great balance where I feel like I can really make a difference.”