I can hardly believe that it’s been a whole year since I first embarked upon the nomadic life of a locum. In the last twelve months I’ve worked in 9 different towns spread across 3 different states; north, south, hot, cold, coastal, inland, big and small. I’ve worked in GP practices, birth suites, emergency departments, aeroplanes, remote clinics, inpatient wards and operating theatres. I’ve been lucky enough to attended six conferences and training courses and to travel overseas on holiday four times. I’ve met hundreds of new workmates and seen thousands of new patients. I’ve taken 17 international, 27 domestic and 14 clinic flights and been away from home for 31 weeks of the year.
In some ways the time has gone so fast, yet in others it has felt like a very very long year. It has certainly been one of the most interesting, challenging, adventurous and emotionally turbulent years of my life and it seems fitting to take this opportunity to reflect on the highs and lows of a remarkable 12 months.
There have certainly been some amazing moments. I will never forget the pure joy of running knee deep in ash down the side of Mount Etna, the serenity of swimming in the natural pools in El Questro Wilderness Park, the spooky spectacle of the Easter processions in Seville, the delight of frolicking on the beach with seals on Kangaroo Island and the rush of snowboarding through the powder in Niseko. My tastebuds have had a pretty great year too; jamon iberico from the Barcelona markets, gyoza in Tokyo, unbelievably fresh seafood in Sicily and what was nothing less than a life changing pastry in Rome. And macarons. Sooooooo many macarons (29 batches, in fact).
Professionally, it’s been a pretty steep learning curve. I started out as a city slicker just out of GP training, terrified about what I would be expected to handle as an unsupervised, supposedly independent rural generalist. Well, I’ve survived everything that the country has thrown at me so far, and thankfully so did all of my patients, though it was not without a few scary moments. I’m pleased to report that I have acquitted myself respectably as an emergency doctor, despite my trepidation and my lack of prior experience, and have also become an enthusiastic wielder of the ultrasound probe. The result of these experiences is that I enter my second year of rural medicine with a pocketful of new skills, a heap more confidence and only the occasional panic about what I might have to deal with.
But of course it’s the connections with people that have brought me the most satisfaction this year. I’m so grateful for the opportunities to catch up with relatives while on locum placements “over east”, and the freedom to travel overseas has allowed me to spend quality time with all of my close friends who are scattered across the globe. Along the way I’ve made some fantastic new friends and become much closer with others.
One of my most enjoyable experiences of the year was the GPET convention, largely because of the opportunity to hang out with a fantastic group of inspiring and like-minded people. Another highlight was living with my gorgeous friend Mel Clothier during my Clare Valley locum, an experience which brought us even closer together. More recently, turning up as the random substitute on a holiday to Japan with 6 more-or-less complete strangers was a risk that was rewarded with the beginning of what I’m sure will be life-long friendships.
On the flip side, it hasn’t always been sunshine and gelato, there have definitely been some tough times. The sheer energy required to show up every month to a new work place, learn the system, remember everyone’s names and be bright and bubbly has left me exhausted and burnt out at times. Not to mention the stress of taking on increasing levels of responsibility in a series of vastly different clinical settings each with unique patient demographics, protocols, resources and patterns of disease. But that’s ok. You become adaptable. You learn quickly.
However, without a doubt, the hardest thing has been the recurrent experience of loneliness, isolation and social disconnectedness. Although it’s not there all the time, it’s been affecting me to some extent during nearly every locum trip. Add that to my increasing time and distance away from friends and family at “home” and I’m left feeling like I’m floating in space, lacking an anchor to give me a solid sense of belonging.
It’s made me realise that while meeting new friends is awesome, the real treasure is in consolidating those friendships over weeks, months and years. That’s pretty hard to do with my current lifestyle. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way forward is to stay somewhere for long enough to make those connections, find those local friends and invest the time into making community. I’m really looking forward to it!
So why then, am I still a locum?
Yes it’s a good question. I ask myself that all the time. I tell myself it’s because I haven’t found the place with the right mix of work & life factors yet. Really it’s that I’m such a damn indecisive perfectionist that I couldn’t possibly make a decision without trying out every single potential option first. This dysfunctional character trait is annoying enough when trying to buy a new dress, or decide what to eat at a restaurant… but when it takes me 18 months to decide on somewhere to live, it’s getting a bit ridiculous.
If I’m being brutally honest it’s actually also because I’m scared. I’m scared about the feeling of finality that comes with packing up and leaving Perth. I’m scared about having to create a completely new life for myself in a new town without the security of the retreating home every few weeks. I’m also anxious about being a single, clucky, 30 year old and have convinced myself that if I chose the “wrong” town then I will never find the love of my life and will end up an eccentric cat lady.
This is all ridiculous, I know. None of us have control over such mystifying things as love and happiness. And there is no right or wrong choice here, only different options which lead down different but unpredictable pathways. There’s no point worrying about what might happen, when all I can really do is make the best decision I can based on what I know now.
All in all, it truly has been a great year for so many reasons and I don’t regret a single minute of it. I’ll still be on the road for a few months yet and I shall endeavour to embrace every day with open arms and take each adventure as it comes.
Thank you so much to all you amazing people whose paths I have crossed over the last year, who have welcomed me into your homes, your communities and your lives, however transiently. You have given me so much and I appreciate it more than you know. One day soon I’ll stop moving and stick around long enough to give something back in return.