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Once upon a time in Hollywood Queensland

A story of short straws, adventure and writing your own ending when the plan goes up in smoke

Ed Chong’s GP journey has all the elements of a cracking Hollywood screenplay—transpacific locations, a captivating plot, great characters and the themes of adventure and resilience. Which is why, after interviewing the first year GP Registrar recently for the GPTQ blog, I found it hard to write this piece in any other way. So, here goes…

 

Act 1: The set-up

Toronto, Canada, 2013

36year-old Ed is a successful physiotherapist and business owner. Ten years earlier, fresh out of uni, he and a handful of friends had joined forces to set up their own chain of physiotherapy clinics and the venture is enjoying a dream run, with four clinics already in the stable. The next step in the group’s business plan is to expand further, developing niche services for aged care. Ed and his business partners consider recruiting a doctor to the team to help facilitate this, but worry anyone they ‘employ’ won’t bring the same commitment to the business they have as its founding partners. ‘Here’s an idea’, one suggests: ‘How about one of us goes back to uni and gets a medical degree?’

Initially it seems outlandish, but the concept quickly takes root. A board meeting follows—the six partners, three of them women, sit dotted around the long conference table in a city high-rise trying to work out which of them will be the one to return to study for the next four to seven years. ‘Well, we’ll probably want to start having babies soon…’ the females in the group offer by way of a tentative out. ‘Hang on,’ their male counterparts fire back. ‘What about gender equity and all that?’. ‘Right,’ someone declares, bringing the grumbling that’s now erupted to a halt. ‘The only way to decide this with any fairness is if we draw straws.’ So that’s what they do.

Ed, of course, is the one who draws the shortest. ‘Is this really happening?’ he asks staring dumfounded at the stubby straw resting in his hand. ‘Come on, fair’s fair,’ is the chorus that comes back. ‘We said this was the only way to decide.’

Four months later Ed is seated on a plane. As it touches down in Brisbane, Australia,13,000 kilometres from home he’s still reeling over the speed with which ‘the plan’ has been put into action—he’s about to begin his medical degree at The University of Queensland. But, audience, what you don’t know already know is this: Ed is an optimist. As the plane taxis he steels himself with the mantra: this is simply my life’s next adventure.

Side note: The choice of university (in Oz and not Canada) was something of a no-brainer. Each year Canada graduates the same number of doctors UQ does and the two country’s health systems share many similarities. The Canadian Medical Council also happens to recognise Australian certified GPs.

 

Act 2: The confrontation

Brisbane, Australia, 2019

Five years have passed. Ed has enjoyed his studies—medicine excites him; it builds on many of the things he enjoyed in his work as a physiotherapist and it has opened up new areas of interest. He has just finished his internship and is now a ‘junior’ doctor, but a fully-fledged doctor all the same. His temporary life in Australia has also been anything but hard to bear: sunny Queensland days and laid-back people that match its warmth. The plan’s ‘next step’, however, is fast approaching: his return home.

Then, early one morning as he is preparing for a hospital shift, a call comes in from Canada. It’s one of his business partners. ‘I’ve got some news,’ he tells Ed. ‘We’ve had an offer on the business—a corporate with a good reputation. I know it’s out of left field, but we’re wondering if we should sell.’ Ed swallows on his shock. The wondering is played out over several conference calls between the group. In the end the six partners agree—we’ll list the company on the NASDAQ. When it sells for a strong profit none of the partners, not even Ed, can deny they’ve done well out of the sale.

But where does this leave him? The plan has been torn up. Ed’s short straw—the one that brought him to Australia to get a medical degree that would expand a business he no longer has a stake in—has left him stranded. Don’t forget though, Ed is an optimist. He takes stock of his situation. He weighs up the pros and cons of a return home. Finally he circles back to the mantra that helped him when he arrived in Australia five years ago: this is simply my life’s next adventure. Because Ed still wants to become a GP. And if he stays in Oz to complete his training he will get to explore more of the new interests that have opened up to him during medical school; Indigenous health being one.

 

Act 3: The resolution

Toowoomba, Australia, present day

Ed is seven months into his first GP training placement. Based at Drayton Medical Centre on the outskirts of the bustling regional hub known as Toowoomba, his weeks are busy, filled with patient presentations that showcase for him the true diversity of primary care.

Every day he is learning new things and finding fulfilment in delivering continuity of care. For two years working in hospital settings, his interactions with patients felt too finite and the episodes of care too short; not broad enough for him to achieve the tailored and lasting outcomes that he wants to as a doctor. Now Ed is working 10 hours a day, four days a week, with some after hours GP care thrown in and the odd weekend shift too. He feels energised and excited about this new career he is building.

Home hasn’t been forgotten. Not everything is perfect—life never is. His family had been due to join him in early 2020, then COVID-19 hit. For now, as it has been for the last six years they Skype daily and continue to make plans for when they can finally make their way across the Pacific and experience life in this new country Ed has grown to love.

Next year Ed will continue his work at Drayton Medical Centre, but supplement it with a roster of part-time work at nearby Aboriginal Medical Service Carbal Medical Services. He says he can’t wait. He loves the ‘family’ focus of the medicine he is learning to practice. And the scope for early intervention. Being a part of improving long-term health outcomes for patients.

So, how does this story end? It doesn’t. Winding paths and choices, both challenging and clear, will continue to present themselves. Ed may finish his GP training in Australia and decide he has missed enough snow-filled winters and hockey games—that it’s time to head home. Or, he might stay and put his hand up for another Aussie adventure.

Check out our Adventure in General Practice eBook to read more GP stories. 

If you have questions about the AGPT program, get in touch with us on 07 3552 8100 or message us