Half a lifetime ago, I signed up to a contract that would affect every major life decision in ways that I could barely begin to imagine. I’ve now fulfilled my side of the bargain and for the first time in my life, feel a complete sense of freedom.
This blog started as I began my return of service period for the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship, but the entire journey started many years earlier, when I was a 17 year old girl in those heady summer days between the end of high school and the start of university and “the real world”. My thoughts were filled with plans for schoolies week and driving lessons and trips to the beach with friends. And then the discovery that I had been one of the lucky few accepted into medical school and by the way would I like $120,000 to be a REAL COUNTRY DOCTOR one day? The excitement was overwhelming!
Along the way it’s felt at various times like a pot of gold, a roadblock, a road-map, a nudge in a different direction, a sword hanging over me, a stone in the pit of my stomach, a cage. But without fail it’s always been there lurking in the background. It’s affected my training pathway and my choice of specialty (GP obstetrics). It’s prompted me to take opportunities I might otherwise never have considered (RCS, JFPP, conferences). It’s had a huge impact on my personal relationships along the way. It’s taken me on great adventures and led me to this home and job and community which I love.
And, now, it’s done and dusted in what seems like no time at all. It’s funny how time has a way of seeming faster in retrospect. In fact, due my chronically disorganized life admin and paperwork procrastination, I have only just realised that my time was up back in December. It passed without me even being aware of it.
Total return of service time: 3 years, 10 months and 5 days. Or, almost exactly 16 years since signing on the dotted line. I’m now 33.
Even though I knew this day was coming, and even though it makes no actual practical difference to my life right now, the absolute sense of joy and freedom is wonderful. The idea that I am here out of choice not obligation, the idea that I could take off and live overseas if I want, that I can choose not to work for 6 months without fear of penalty. But it’s the silliest little thing that make me the most excited – that I can just go and get myself a Medicare provider number for anywhere in Australia if I wanted to. Such a psychological weight off my mind!
It prompts reflection. Do I have any regrets? Was it the right decision? What advice would I tell my 17 year old self? To be honest I still can’t really be sure. I’m certainly in a much stronger financial position than I otherwise would have been, and I had a much better time in medical school than I otherwise might have. I can’t regret that it led me to become a GP obstetrician which I still firmly believe is one of the best jobs in the world. I can’t regret the things I’ve done and places I’ve been and people I’ve met because of it, and I certainly can’t complain about my life now – living in paradise, finally learning guitar, becoming a Lycra-clad cyclist, being part of a winning beach volleyball team and working in a fantastic hospital with the best colleagues you could ever hope for. I think it’s made me braver and more adventurous and more self-sufficient.
However, I know it could have easily gone the other way. I’ve spoken to many other MRBS scholars and there are lots of people out there who are struggling. They struggle because there aren’t jobs for their specialty in the country, or because the country jobs require unacceptable sacrifices for them or their families. Plenty of people have regrets, plenty of people are suffering. I think I’m one of the lucky ones.
But who knows what life might have been like if I’d gone through the other sliding door? More than likely I would have had different but equally amazing experiences and made other interesting decisions and met other wonderful people. I supposed I’d expected that I’d be happily partnered up and with a couple of babies by now, and I guess I wonder if that might have been the case if I’d made different choices. Or maybe it’s just that the MRBS was a convenient excuse which I no longer have.
So the big question; what next? As it turns out, being an adult doesn’t mean that you make one major decision and that’s it. You have to keep making big decisions, over and over again. And for someone who becomes paralysed with indecision when a restaurant menu has more than 10 items, I’m finding the newfound freedom almost as overwhelming as it is exciting. I’m not finished with the Kimberley yet so I’m planning to stay in Broome for this year at least, but will certainly be keeping my mind open to whatever new opportunities come my way.
Vancouver? Melbourne? Perth? Edinburgh? Albany? Or stay in Broome for ever? I don’t know yet how the future will unfold, but I’m damn glad to have the choice.