NAME: Steve Caldwell, M.D.
WORK: Emergency medicine physician, McKay-Dee Hospital, Ogden, Utah
Undergrad: The University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Med School: Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
Residency: Indiana University School of Medicine
Caldwell wanted to practice abroad, so he spent last year practicing in New Zealand. “My goal was to work with a different system and travel a little more with my family,” he says. “I always intended to come back to my job. We had a great experience abroad and plan to do it again when my children are farther along with their schooling. New Zealand is a beautiful country, we had a marvelous experience as a family, and I had a great practice setting.”
Why did you decide to practice medicine abroad?
I’ve been out of residency for about 10 years now. I’m originally from Utah and had been practicing here for about seven or eight years when I started thinking about practicing overseas. I looked into both Australia and New Zealand simply because the demand for physicians is highest in those countries and licensing and getting housing is easier.
I speak Spanish, so I considered a Spanish-speaking country, but I have a big family and was only going to be there for a year, so my wife and I decided to stick with English-speaking countries so our children could make the most of their school year.
Even though we were only going to be gone a year, we sold the home we were living in so we wouldn’t have to worry about managing the rent while overseas. We have six children, so it was a bit of a process. But once we handled all of the details, it was really a special experience and worth every bit of energy and time it took. It’s a beautiful country and the people are awesome. We actually did make it to Australia because I had a conference to attend.
What did you like best about working abroad?
Personally, I like having the shared experience with my family where each of us was out of our comfort zone. Since we all were experiencing something new, we had to rely on each other more. We grew closer together as a family versus anything we had ever previously done.
Professionally, I think working in a different system forced me to step back and evaluate the way I’ve done things for many years, such as my practice patterns and habits I didn’t even think about. Working with senior and junior doctors all over the world brought all of this to my attention. I became much more focused on reading literature and being up to date.
It felt like a training program, which reinvigorated me and made me excited about practicing medicine again. It reminded me of why I went into medicine in the first place. I think it both enriched and prolonged my career. When I came back home, I realized that some of things that bothered me were minor annoyances.
What were the most challenging aspects?
There were certainly some frustrations. New Zealand is a socialized system and very cost conscious. It’s much more clinically oriented, and they rely less on diagnostic testing. That’s good, but there were times when I wanted to order a certain test and felt like it was indicated. For example, sometimes I would have to convince a radiologist that a CT scan was indicated. That person hadn’t even seen the patient, and I was given a hard time.
At times, I felt I had to grovel to get things done that I would never have to do in the States. It took me time to get used to the system being less efficient. Their medical records and documentation systems are fairly old. However, at the same time, I didn’t have the pressure to see a lot of patients and be as efficient as I am here. After a while, I realized that it wasn’t about capturing all of the charges and billings, but it was about the patient. Outcomes there are generally very good—in fact, as good as ours in most cases.
What advice would you give a physician who is considering practicing medicine abroad?
I’ve talked to a lot of physicians who have asked about it and think it sounds awesome and wish they could do it. A person can think of hundreds of excuses. For me, it was an amazing experience and if my job were flexible enough, I would love to do it every two or three years.
The advice I would give is that it’s worth it. It does take effort and sacrifice. Financially, it’s not beneficial if a person is looking at dollars and cents. However, I can’t put a price on the experiences and the growth I’ve had. It was worth every penny and every ounce of effort. I have a number of colleagues who are now working abroad and plan to stay indefinitely.
How can other physicians find work abroad?
I searched online for physician practice opportunities, and there were several staffing companies that can help with the job search. I looked into many and felt really good about Vista, whom I used.
What came as a surprise to you?
I didn’t anticipate how helpful the hospital would be. Vista was great at helping us get our papers arranged and all. However, the hospital, Palmerston North Hospital in Palmerston North, New Zealand, had a recruiter who was fantastic.
She went above and beyond in helping us find housing and get everything settled, which was surprising to me. I thought we would be on our own with housing and transportation. The hospital did everything they could to make the transition seamless. They made us feel valued and appreciated.