There are some times as a locum when I have to pinch myself and think “Really? Am I actually getting paid to be here? Wow, what a life!” Spending three weeks in Broome for my latest work trip was one of those times.
With a population of around 16 000, Broome is the biggest and best known town in the stunning Kimberley region. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited this part of the world twice before for locum trips to Kununurra and Derby, and I’m pleased to report that this latest visit has certainly lived up to my high expectations.
With the sun rising over the aqua waters of Roebuck Bay to the east, and setting over the white sands of Cable Beach to the west, it’s a picturesque setting indeed. Its got a unique multicultural feel about it; a legacy from the melting pot of Japanese, Chinese, Malay, European and Aboriginal cultures that occurred during its early years as a frontier pearling town.
Everywhere you look there are people in breezy dresses, floppy hats, bikinis and board shorts. Everyone looks like they are on holiday and in fact, at this time of year most people in Broome ARE on holiday; the population triples with the annual influx of tourists. It has a very relaxed vibe where no one is ever in a hurry, giving rise to the concept of “Broome time” – no clocks required!
In contrast to the multitude of barefoot backpackers and the scruffy mob of locals, there is also an ultra elite side to Broome. Dozens of jewellery boutiques sell mind-blowingly expensive pearls, and celebrities and millionaires are known to fly in on private jets to stay at luxury resorts or private beach mansions.
Of course the popularity of the town with outsiders can be both a blessing and a curse. The locals grumble about how busy it gets and the exorbitant price of a restaurant meal. On the plus side, there are plenty of things to do with an abundance of restaurants, bars, events and attractions. I managed to fit in a visit to the crocodile park, a pearl farm tour, movie at the world’s oldest working outdoor cinema, a beach polo tournament and many long walks along Cable Beach at sunset. Tough life, hey?
In between all this leisure time, I did actually do a bit of work. I was working at the hospital as a district medical officer doing mostly obstetrics and emergency. The maternity unit is busy enough, with a nice broad scope of practice but great backup from specialist obstetricians and paediatricians.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m much less confident with emergency medicine, but it got a whole lot easier after I got over my fear of looking like an idiot and started asking for help from the experienced local DMOs. Luckily, the team is so supportive, I never felt like I was on my own and there’s a real sense of collaboration. Everyone shares their ideas and expertise with tricky or interesting cases, resulting in a great environment for learning. I even got to see how to do lung ultrasound. How cool is that?
The social life outside of the hospital also had a lot to recommend it. I was able to disgrace myself on the beach volleyball court, catch-up with people over a sunset cocktail or a stroll around the markets. I met lots of great docs, students, nurses & radiographers at the hospital and a bunch of young GPs in town, so there was definitely no shortage of potential new friends.
Now the big question; is this my future home?
And the answer is…<drum-roll, please>… Yes!
After a year and half as a locum, I’m definitely ready to just stay in one place for a while. And having now been to a number of places where I could happily live and work, a decision needed to be made. Being cripplingly indecisive by nature, I thought that this would be a difficult process. I imagined that I’d have to draw up a spreadsheet of pros and cons, weighted according to importance and then calculated to give an overall numeric score. (I know, I know. I even annoy myself sometimes.)
But, in the end, the decision made itself. Broome just felt like the right place at the right time.
I am SO relieved to finally have a bit more certainty in my future, and really looking forward to moving up north to start a new life. Am I nervous? Absolutely! I’m worried about how I will cope with the heat and humidity in summer. I’m worried about doing a job that requires critical care skills beyond my current skill set. I’m worried that I will tire of being a hospital doctor and will miss community general practice. I’m worried that I won’t make close friends and that I will end up a crazy spinster cat lady. But am I going to suck it up and jump in feet first anyway? Hell yes.
A couple of years living in the remote tropical north will no doubt be a great opportunity for personal growth. Besides which, working in the hospital doing things outside my comfort zone will be fantastic training and will ultimately make me a better doctor. After all – Broome is pretty much the spiritual home of rural generalist FOAMed – how incredibly lucky am I to become a bona fide Broome Doc!!
Unfortunately I can’t start at the hospital for another 6 months or so, so I’ve still got a bit of time in this weird in-between limbo. But slowly and surely things are starting falling into place.
And who know? Maybe once I get there I’ll never want to leave.