Dr Gillian Baird’s lilting Scottish accent (she hails from Falkirk, a large industrial town found midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow) makes for an interesting talking point whenever the first year GP Registrar ushers a new patient into her consulting room at Northpoint Medical Centre in Toowoomba.
‘What brought you to Australia?’ is a question Gillian is asked often.
“The truth is,” she will say. “I came here on a whim. A holiday to explore a country I’d always wanted to visit. Then I fell in love with it.”
Gillian’s arrival in Australia was almost five years ago.
And while putting down roots here may not have been part of the original plan she says her career in General Practice most certainly was.
But, like many of her GP Registrar contemporaries, her path to primary care has not followed a direct route.
Early career in hospital medicine
Gillian studied medicine at the University of Dundee and her first inkling that General Practice might align with both her interests and sensibilities came in the fifth and final year of her degree when she did an eight week GP training placement on the tiny Isle of Islay (pronounced Eye-la).
Located on Scotland’s ‘whisky coast’ and famous for producing the country’s best single malt (there are nine working distilleries on the island), Islay is home to a population of just over 3,000.
A quick google image search offers up a township reminiscent of the fictional village portrayed in BBC series Doc Martin (even though the show was filmed in Cornwall). Think stunning rocky coastlines and quaint white stone cottage architecture.
Here Gillian got her first taste of patient and family-centred care, working alongside four other GPs across the isle’s three medical practices and small rural hospital.
“I loved how hands on it was and the variety of the presentations,” Gillian says.
“I was pretty set on becoming a GP after that experience.”
However, when she reached her Junior House Officer year she was faced with a difficult decision.
“I had to choose between General Practice and the other pathway that I’d discovered really interested me, which was General Medicine,” Gillian explains.
“In the end I rationalised that training for a hospital specialty would be good experience for me,” she says.
“Also, I figured I could always come back to General Practice further down the line.”
Decision made, Gillian spent two years training to become a Physician.
She worked at Perth Royal Infirmary and Ninewells Hospital in Dundee for two years as an intern and junior house officer and then moved to Wishaw, a large town just outside of Glasgow, to take a position that would further her physician training while she pursued additional training in the area of geriatrics along the way.
The accidental Australian
In February 2017 Gillian landed in Brisbane for a holiday, but by trip’s end had decided her short stay wasn’t enough.
Within a week of returning home to Scotland she had applied to every hospital in Queensland hoping to secure a job in General Medicine.
By August she’d got her wish and was again touching down in the Sunshine State, this time ready for work.
She says the next two years flew by, during which her view on life as a hospital doctor began to change.
“The hours were gruelling and I found myself considering the impact it was having on my life and the life of consultants around me—all of us working around the clock, being called in at 3am, having little time for relationships and families,” she says.
“I decided I didn’t want that for my future.”
General Practice had always been part of the long-term plan, Gillian remembered, and it seemed that now the timing was right.
Taking time away from General Medicine for a year she explored other disciplines, including emergency medicine, obstetrics & gynaecology and general surgery, which she says helped to solidify her plan to pursue a new career – General Practice.
When the pandemic hit, she took a job working in a Covid Testing Centre on the Whitsunday Islands and by March 2020 she had applied for the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program.
Gillian was accepted as part of the program’s 2021 first intake.
She admits her career change did prove a little daunting at first, but she quickly found her rhythm.
“It is the best decision I have ever made,” Gillian says.
“I have the perfect work-life balance now and could not be happier.”
“General Practice gives me the balance of a job I love getting up in the morning for. I also have more time for my family and for continuing to explore Australia.”
Rural General Practice
In January 2021 Gillian moved to Toowoomba to begin her current training placement at Northpoint Medical Centre.
She says her working environment ticks all the boxes.
“Every day is different and I love that,” Gillian explains.
“There is so much variety in the medicine I’m practising now and my work isn’t ‘not procedural’—that’s another thing I really value about General Practice; you can build as much procedural work into your remit as you want to.”
Gillian is training on the RACGP rural pathway and is enjoying exploring the rural scope of General Practice.
“I’m definitely open to living and working in a smaller rural setting in the future,” she says.
Her training in geriatric medicine hasn’t been forgotten either.
She is interested in carving out niche GP skills in both palliative care and women’s health.
With a fulfilling new career opening up to her, Gillian says life is good.
In August 2021 she applied for Australian Citizenship and in 2023 she will marry her Australian fiancé, a mining engineer who currently works four days out of each week in Central Queensland.
Her fingers are crossed that her family will be able to travel from Scotland to Australia for the wedding.