I recently returned from my second extended stay in New Zealand with my family. The entire experience was wonderful, but perhaps our most memorable day began with our three teenage sons waking up early to surf in the South Pacific Ocean. Once we had our fill of tropical paradise, we jumped in the car and drove a few hours to the local ski resort, where we found 10 feet of snow.
The transition from sunrise surfing to afternoon skiing felt like something out of a fairy tale, but it was the very real charmed life we were living in one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
It’s worth noting that we are from the United States, and I was in New Zealand working as a child psychologist. How is it possible to have such amazing adventures in another country with my family while maintaining a very busy and high-stress job?
The answer is locum tenens.
Many doctors I’ve been in association with have considered travel work at some point in their career, but most think it’s something they should have done early on or might still do in their twilight years. Especially for doctors with families, travel work seems like an impossible dream.
However, I would urge any doctor or nurse who has given up the travel dream because of family obligations to reconsider. Instead, plan to take them with you. I know from our experiences that travel work is even better with your family by your side.
Here is how we did it.
We jumped into the adventure
I learned about international locum tenens years ago from a fellow resident. She was part of a program in Australia, and the idea of doing what I loved in another country was fascinating. Still, it took quite a few years for me to arrange it. International locum tenens assignments are generally several months long, so it wasn’t until 2013 that I was able to work in New Zealand for the first time.
There will always be another reason to put it off and try another time, but international work is a wonderful experience that every doctor should have. Do it as soon as you have the chance and plan to take your family.
We discussed expectations ahead of time
When our first opportunity to work in New Zealand came up, I knew I wanted to share the adventure with my husband and our children. But it was important to have everyone on board with the idea of living in another country. We sat down with everyone and discussed how to make the experience work.
Our teenage sons attended wonderful public schools in New Zealand, and when they weren’t studying, they were embracing everything New Zealand has to offer. They went hunting, fishing, camping, sailing, and climbing mountains — not to mention surfing and skiing.
My husband is a talented nurse, but we didn’t have enough time for him to also work a travel assignment. So, he embraced taking care of the kids and telecommuting back to the States for his second career as a dog breeder and administrator for a magazine. We hope to return for another locum experience where he can work as well, but establishing an understanding upfront was important.
We worked with a team that simplified the process
A representative at a global staffing company first approached me during a perfect open spot between jobs. Since then, my experiences working with a professional international locum tenens partner have been outstanding.
Traveling to another country for work requires a huge amount of paperwork, including visas for family members. The team streamlined the entire process for us, filling out the forms, telling me where to sign, and helping me understand how to proceed.
My rep also takes care of any problems, and it’s lifesaving to have someone to call, email, or text if something does arise. Most of the time, she solves any problems before I even realize there are problems.
We enjoyed the country for its unique benefits, features, and culture
New Zealand has to be the most beautiful country in the world — every time you go over another hill, you find more stunning, amazing scenery. The people are wonderful and friendly, and generally, enjoy having people from other cultures come into their country.
For me, coming to New Zealand was a wonderful way to recharge my batteries, learn some new techniques, and discover a different style of medicine. For example, in New Zealand, I’ve made numerous house calls, which is something I never did in the States. But I quickly learned that we can accomplish more in an hour or two around someone’s kitchen table than we could with a dozen office visits.
Working in New Zealand has been fantastic for my family. Our boys have grown by leaps and bounds and now have a network of friends that they’ll take with them throughout the rest of their lives. On a professional level, working with doctors and nurses in another country has been a wonderful experience. My colleagues have been very supportive and always willing to help us understand and navigate the cultural differences.
I wanted to become a doctor because I enjoy being with people, and I plan on practicing medicine in New Zealand whenever I can for many years to come. By discussing the adventure ahead of time with our family and diving in with a great partner, we have been able to truly enjoy our experiences and created memories that will last a lifetime.
John Gallehr is a psychiatrist, Global Medical Staffing.
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