After five years training to be a GP following graduation from medical school at Trinity College Dublin in 2003, Aifric Boylan spent another five working as a GP in practices in Kildare and Meath.
“I thought on and off about setting up my own practice or seeking partnership with another GP, but it became very obvious that would be a huge mistake,” she says. “Most of the GPs I knew with their own practices were struggling after multiple rounds of Fempi [financial emergency measures in the public interest] cuts inflicted by the Government.
“Several busy, hardworking GPs I knew were unable to draw a salary some months. I felt very uncertain about my future career security.”
Boylan and her husband Ciarán, who have two young sons, were struggling to pay their mortgage. “We were crippled by high tax rates, running faster and faster to stay still. We were mentally exhausted by the burden of debt which we saw little prospect of ever repaying. One day it just clicked with us that emigration was a solution.”
Boylan contacted a few agencies and had interviews lined up within days. The practices she spoke to were very keen on GPs from Ireland or the UK. The family moved to Melbourne last year.
“Being a GP here is great. It is very busy but well-resourced.”
She works four long days a week, from 8.30am to 7pm, and sees between 35 and 40 patients a day, but the workload is “more manageable than in Ireland”. “We have excellent IT and quick access to all manner of diagnostics, which means I can sort patients’ problems much more efficiently. Blood testing and radiology, including ultrasound and CT, is a same-day service. Outpatient waiting lists in the public system are an issue, though they are not as bad as in Ireland.
“The biggest difference though is anyone who is mentally unwell can be referred by their GP to a clinical psychologist within days, and can avail of 10 state-subsidised psychology sessions per year. I’ve rarely needed to refer patients to psychiatrists, and antidepressant medication is much less likely to be required because the issues get sorted out properly.”
Overall, she feels much more supported and appreciated in Australia. "I am paid much better. The attitude of the public, media and the state is far more respectful towards healthcare workers. It is seen as a noble and worthwhile job, and morale reflects this," she says.
“There are understaffed A&E departments too, but the difference is when you drive home you don’t turn on the radio to hear some HSE official or politician talking negatively about front-line staff.
“I will not return to work as a GP in Ireland unless I see clear, sustained evidence that the State is starting to value and support its frontline workers.”