With our four children ‘grown and flown’, Mr. Bill and I decided to spread our wings. We took a giant leap of faith and moved to New Zealand, intending to stay for just one year but that proved impossible. Like the migrating Godwits, the small birds who fly from Alaska to Ohope every winter, we have returned each year as well.
Bill was asked to write an article,for his high school alma mater, Xavier High School, in Middletown, Connecticut, about his decision to move to New Zealand and his work experience. I am including the article on this page; I thought it only fair to let Mr. Bill have his say, in the blog that bears his name!
GOING FROM DOCTOR TO MISTER
American surgeon adapts to the Kiwi health System
After 35 years of being called Doctor, I am still adapting to being called Mister by my colleagues and patients.I retired from the Middletown Surgical Group, at the end of 2012 after 30 years of practice. During that time, I had been the managing partner for 25 years; I had also served as the Chairman of the Department of Surgery, at Middlesex Hospital for 9 years prior to my retirement.
Contemplating retirement, I wanted to do more than stop working and play golf. The desire to scale back from a 70-80 hour work week, while continuing to work as a surgeon, combined with the wish to travel, presented a unique challenge within the American health system. A chance encounter with international recruiters at an American College of Surgeons meeting, led me to consider a locum tenens posting after retirement. Locum tenens, Latin for ‘place holders’ is the term used in the medical profession for temporary workers. Locum doctors bridge the gap in areas where there are too few doctors to care for the population.Contracts vary in duration, from a single night’s coverage to a year or more.In March 2013, I joined the staff of Whakatane Hospital in New Zealand, as a consultant general surgeon. In scaling back to a 40 hour work week, I am enjoying a healthier work-life balance.
Caring for patients is the same the world over. As a surgeon, diagnosing the problem and performing surgery are the same but the means to the end are different. In New Zealand, access to equipment, that we take for granted in the United States, is limited. It is not unusual, for patients to travel 2-3 hours for medical care. Knowing this, I have adjusted my approach in treating patients, while maintaining a high standard of care. One thing that is consistent among my patients here and in the Unites States, is their appreciation for my care of their surgical problems. This is true, despite the longer waiting time for elective surgery in New Zealand.
My work day begins with ward rounds during which I am accompanied by a junior surgeon, a house officer (intern), physical therapist and a social worker. After making rounds, I see patients in the clinic or perform surgery in the theatre (operating room). Every fortnight,I travel 50 kilometers to Opotiki, to conduct clinic at a 5-bed hospital. It is a spectacular drive along the coast of the Bay of Plenty, to a rural area that is heavily populated by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. As part of my orientation, the Maori staff members of Whakatane Hospital, welcomed me in a powhiri, which is a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony. It culminates with hongi, the touching of one’s nose and forehead to another’s with an exchange of breath. Once this has happened, you are recognized as a friend not foe. In order to respect their culture, I have had to adjust to different protocols: for example, the patients are entitled to keep body parts after surgical removal, which many Maori prefer. It is important to them, that all parts of the body be buried together.
The Kiwis are a warm and encouraging people. My wife, Maureen and I have felt embraced by the community since we arrived. It has been an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to live and work in New Zealand.
Oh yes, regarding the “Mister”. The New Zealand health system is roughly modeled on the British system. As a result, some of the British customs have been passed down, such as referring to consultant surgeons as Mister instead of Doctor. This is to distinguish between physicians and surgeons. Whether I am called Doctor or Mister or Bill, the title is irrelevant to me. I have never considered being a surgeon an occupation but have been blessed to call it my vocation.