Triple0 Talks: From Abroad to Aotearoa NZ Episode 2: Dr Karen Kee

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In this episode of our Triple0 Talks podcast, we chat to Dr Karen Kee, a UK GP, who along with her husband Mitchell (UK Anaesthetist) spent time living in Melbourne in Australia before making the move to live and work in Timaru in the South Island of New Zealand.

Karen talks about their experiences with the different registration processes in Australia and New Zealand, as well as their experience living and working in both places.

What were the differences Karen found working as a GP between the UK and NZ?  Would they return to either place again if they could?

Listen to the full discussion below or read the transcript below, and if you’d like more advice on living and working in New Zealand, we have a number of resources available, including a guide to relocating to New Zealanddetails on the key registration pathways available, a location guide to help you choose your destination and general information on moving to New Zealand as well as what it’s like to work here

If you have any questions or would like to find out about the opportunities we have available across the countryget in touch with us. 

Triple0 Talks is our podcast series that discusses important issues facing doctors today. Each episode highlights a specific theme and provides a real-world perspective from those who experience life as a doctor first-hand.


Speaker: Richard (00:00):

Welcome, you join us today with my special guest, Dr. Karen Key. My name is Richard and I’m the c e O of Triple A. We’re going to get Karen to share a bit about her experience of living and working and playing in New Zealand. So Karen, can you perhaps introduce yourself to our listeners and tell us a little bit about yourself and your situation?

Speaker: Karen (00:19):

Yeah, hi Richard. My name is Karen, as you said. I’m a gp. I got my C C T in 2017. I’m a mom of three girls, they’re now age nine and we have twins [00:00:30] that are seven. I did my foundation and GP training in Yorkshire and then once I had my C C T, we moved back to Northern Ireland, get a bit of help from the grandparents as the kids. Got more of a handful and we were there for five years and then headed off for this side of the world. So spent a year last year in Melbourne, Australia and this past year in Timaru on the south island of New Zealand. So

Speaker: Richard (00:55):

I guess for those people in the northern hemisphere, probably understanding the contrast between Melbourne [00:01:00] and Timaru wouldn’t land, but I’m sure after a bit of Google work they’ll find that out. So can you tell us a little bit, I’m interested to hear a bit more about the Australian the year in Australia. It’s something which we get asked a lot about. As you know, we recruit only into New Zealand, so a lot of those conversations do tend to lean towards, well, do you do Australia? What’s Australia? So for those listeners that are interested, I’d be keen to hear a bit about Australian experience.

Speaker: Karen (01:26):

Yeah, so the idea of us coming abroad [00:01:30] really was my husband was finishing his anaesthetic training and we didn’t do any travel after foundation training as some people do. We just went straight into specialty training. So we always had the idea that when he got a C C T, we’d head away and do a fellowship. So when we started looking, we were a bit overwhelmed by choice and we’re big sports fans. So Melbourne was really tempting with the Formula One and the Australian Open and things like that. So we decided, well, why not just do both places? So went to Melbourne first [00:02:00] because he had some links there where he could try and help secure a fellowship. It was really difficult for me to get work. In Australia, they have a system whereby if you’re a newly registered gp, you can only get work in areas of designated need and those tend not to be the big urban areas.


So the closest place to Melbourne I could have worked would’ve been an hour away. So it really wasn’t feasible with three kids. So yeah, Australia is very different from New Zealand in [00:02:30] my opinion. The Kiwis are probably a bit more laid back and chilled out and probably a bit more welcoming and we made friends here in New Zealand so much quicker than in Melbourne, but that could be big city life versus small town as you pointed out the contrast. But Australia was incredible in terms of the wildlife. You really can’t beat going for a walk in the park and seeing the kangaroos and seeing the lorikeets and the cockatoos and things like that. That was beautiful. But very much towards [00:03:00] the end of our year in Australia, we were ready to move on. It’s a very different healthcare system there, possibly much more financially motivated, which I know my husband didn’t really enjoy working in. Obviously I can’t comment as much from the GP perspective given that I didn’t get to work there. But yeah, just the general national identity, we were quite happy to be heading off at the end of the year. It’s not somewhere we could have seen ourselves staying. Whereas New Zealand, I have to say, [00:03:30] we’ve got much more mixed feelings about leaving where we’re heading home this week and I feel really sad to be leaving. So yeah, I think here is where we would’ve stayed if that was part of the plan.

Speaker: Richard (03:43):

I mean there’s so much to cover off there. So where do we start? So moving on from snake bites and shark attacks in Australia, travelling with the children, massive, massive call, as you say, kind of family around you then over here and doing that. How did you find that and how did you find, [00:04:00] I guess them settling into schools and the quality of education?

Speaker: Karen (04:04):

Yeah, so I think probably that was part of the issue in Melbourne is it’s just such a big place in any big city. It’s quite easy to get lost and I think we did feel the pressure of not really having any support with the children there, but moving to Roo, it’s a relatively small town, the hospital, there’s so many expats here working, so there’s this almost ready-made community waiting to welcome you. I feel like we had a little welcoming committee within [00:04:30] the week we moved here. We had more friends than we had made in the year in Melbourne, and it was just really welcoming and within a few months the kids were off on sleepovers, and so we just found that we had this little network here that was helpful to us. And I think that’s just coming to a small town that there lots of expats around and ready to welcome people.


Made the same move themselves. School has been, the kids have loved it. There’s probably more focus on [00:05:00] sport and art and this sort of stuff than academics, which given that we’re moving back into the UK system now, I do wonder if they’re going to have a little bit of catching up to do. They haven’t done homework in over two years, so that’s going to be a shock to the system when they go back. But they’ve loved it. And what’s been amazing here is that the kids learn Maori in school here. So my girls now, their party trick is that they can count to 10 in Maori. They can have a little chat. So everyone at home [00:05:30] when they get on FaceTime just thinks this is amazing. So yeah, that’s been absolutely wonderful to see them soaking in this new culture and language. That’s been really lovely to see. As a parent,

Speaker: Richard (05:41):

It’d be really interesting to see how that sense of adventure plays out in their own adult lives, knowing that mom and dad were brave enough to come and do what you’ve done and whether that gives them the itchy feet to try it themselves.

Speaker: Karen (05:54):

Yeah, I think it’s very normalised, all this travel now. I think they’ve gotten a little bit used to it. [00:06:00] So they think nothing of just jumping on an aeroplane and flying about the place, but

Speaker: Richard (06:06):

And no homework for two years. I mean, they must be devastated to be having to move back home.

Speaker: Karen (06:11):

I don’t think it’s quite hit them yet. What awaits then.

Speaker: Richard (06:14):

Yeah. And so maybe could you talk to us a little bit Timaru, because for many people it’s not a place that they would’ve heard of in New Zealand. Yeah, so

Speaker: Karen (06:25):

Yeah, us too. We had never heard of it until Kim and Liz got in contact and said, we’ve got this [00:06:30] town where there’s both an anaesthetic job and a GP job. What do you think? And of course immediately we got Google out Google maps to try and see where it was and what was going on. So yeah, to be honest, it was a complete unknown to us when we came here, which was quite scary and overwhelming. But what we could see from Google Maps is that it’s a fabulous jumping off point for everywhere in the south island. You can be up at Lake Tekapo in an hour and 15 minutes. We were in Kur skiing last week, so Wanaka’s just three hours away [00:07:00] up to Christchurch in two hours, dentist Eden in two hours. So we’ve had just a really lovely base for taking long weekends over the year we’ve been here. I think I’ve seen more of New Zealand now than I have of Ireland, so we’ve really managed to get around. But Timaru has been a lovely jumping off point for that. But yeah, it was a little bit intimidating coming somewhere that we had never heard of

Speaker: Richard (07:23):

Again. Brave. How about the colour of that water at Lake Tekapo?

Speaker: Karen (07:28):

My gosh, it is just, you can’t [00:07:30] explain it. It’s magical, isn’t it? It just changes every time you look at it. Yeah, it’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. It’s gorgeous. We got up there, we just got here for the ski season last year, so when we arrived we went up to Round Hill, which is a ski field beside Lake Tekapo at like three or four weekends in a row right at the end of the ski season last year. So that was a pretty good start to the year.

Speaker: Richard (07:54):

And so does Georgia now go back accomplish skiers?

Speaker: Karen (07:57):

Yes, they do. Although I don’t know how we’re going to afford [00:08:00] it in Europe. I think we’ll have to sell.

Speaker: Richard (08:03):

I’m guessing. I’m guessing it’s not all been high points, so there’s been some challenges or some lower points. Can you talk about them a little bit just to help us set expectations for anybody thinking about coming?

Speaker: Karen (08:15):

Yeah, I think look, adjusting to a new system is always challenging. So certainly with that first few months at work are hard. You’re sending off referrals and maybe they’re not meeting the criteria that you’re used to and things like that, and you’re [00:08:30] trying to access things and it’s just different and it can be frustrating and tasks feel like they take so much longer because you’re having to try and navigate a new system. I worked in a lovely, lovely practise with really supportive people, but there’s still that learning curve. I think for me as well. Personally, I’ve probably had slightly idealised New Zealand in my head and of course it’s a country like any other, there’s poverty, there’s crime. I felt very safe living here, but there was definitely that moment of realisation as well, [00:09:00] that might be some of my patients. There’s a lot of deprivation and just the normal things that you deal with. So that was difficult and it, it’s a very long way from home, so you do feel a little bit like you’re very far away. So yeah, just all of those things. But yeah, on the whole a very positive experience.

Speaker: Richard (09:22):

Is there much of a difference in the day in the life of a GP in Ireland versus New Zealand or Australia from what you’ve [00:09:30] heard around Oz?

Speaker: Karen (09:31):

Yeah, so I mean I think in the UK it can be a little bit more, so let me see how I can describe this, but I think in the UK your days can be a little bit more hectic. You see more patients and have more patient interaction. Whereas here you see fewer patients. Your patient list is very much your own. So my patients really only ever saw me. So if I was away for a week on holiday, they would wait and see me the following week. I found that quite overwhelming [00:10:00] to begin with and for me, an element of pressure there to make sure that I’m not missing anything or because they’re not going to see anybody but me. But the nice element of that was the follow-up so you could really see how things were playing out over the year with them. Yeah, and I think there was probably maybe an expectation because, let me see, how do I say that? You can edit this, I suppose

Speaker: Richard (10:29):

That’s good.

Speaker: Karen (10:30):

[00:10:30] I think because patients pay here as well. Certainly coming from the N H Ss, I was a little bit more aware of the fact that I can’t just say come back to me in three or four weeks if this isn’t working, or using time as a diagnostic tool is something we’re very used to doing, but I was very aware that that’s $50 for somebody to come back and see me. So it probably did mean I changed my management plans a little bit and just had to be more aware of my treatment plans.

Speaker: Richard (10:58):

Really interesting insight. [00:11:00] It’s something that I’ve never really, never really reflected on, I guess myself. Interesting. In terms of patient numbers that you’re seeing in a day, was it noticeably different to what you would back in the UK?

Speaker: Karen (11:14):

Yeah, so you definitely see less patients, but the appointment times are longer, so your sessions do end up being the same amount of time. And then I think trying to fit in your admin, so having those patients being your own, you very much manage all the admin for [00:11:30] them yourself. So the days were still pretty full and pretty jam packed, busy in a different way? I would describe it,

Speaker: Richard (11:38):

Yeah. Less stressful or more stressful?

Speaker: Karen (11:42):

I think it depends on where you draw your stress from. I definitely felt the expectation that people were really only seeing me and it was up to me to manage all of their clinical needs and all of the paperwork and things like that. So I think different systems will play to different people’s strengths, but that was definitely an element [00:12:00] of it that I found difficult.

Speaker: Richard (12:02):

Yeah, yeah. It sounds like they were lucky to have you. You obviously carry their patient care really highly. If I can wind you back to the process, when you first started looking to come to New Zealand, how did you find the whole immigration and medical council registration part of that?

Speaker: Karen (12:22):

To be honest, it was actually really straightforward. I think we’d done Australia first, and I have to say that was just painful, the [00:12:30] registration process for Australia at many times. I think if we hadn’t told the children we were moving to Australia, we’d just have given it given up and packed it in. It was very difficult. We were moving during Covid as well, during all the lockdown. So I think that probably made everything more drawn out. So by comparison to that, the year after when we were registering for New Zealand, it just felt like a breeze. We didn’t have an agent for Australia, it was just direct to the hospital. So I think having Kim and Liz was just wonderful. They were just [00:13:00] so helpful and prompting the replies to any and all emails, so it actually didn’t feel like a big deal. Applying our Visa was a particular Covid specific visa at the time, but it all just seemed to come through really easy. None of that was ever a stress. Neither of us were delayed with start of work or anything like that, despite the fact that deciding to come to New Zealand and having the jobs in, we didn’t have a lot of time, but it just came through really easily. So [00:13:30] that wouldn’t put me off in the slightest.

Speaker: Richard (13:33):

It’s good to hear because often I think it’s a resistance point for people thinking around it. So it’s good to hear that you had a useful experience through that. So when you do go back, I’m sure you’re going to have colleagues ask around the experiences. What kind of advice do you think that you’re going to share with them if they’re thinking around doing it themselves?

Speaker: Karen (13:57):

Yeah, it has been an overwhelmingly positive [00:14:00] experience for us. It’s just been great. I mean, I think it’s fair to say every health system is overstretched. Every health system is under pressure. It’s not magical to work as a GP here. It’s busy, but it’s just a different system. But I think the real thing here is the quality of life that you have your weekends and your holidays, just you’ve got a wealth of places to go and explore and to do that with my family and my dad came over to visit in March and April, [00:14:30] and we just went to so many wonderful places and they’re just memories for a lifetime. So whether it’s considering a permanent move or even just coming for a year or two, it has been just, yeah, memories will treasure forever. So it’s a no-brainer to think if you’re thinking about it, it’s a no-brainer to come and try it because just it’s a beautiful country and it’s been a really lovely place to live.

Speaker: Richard (14:54):

And I guess lastly, the big question for us down in the southern hemisphere, if you could do it again, would [00:15:00] you choose Australia or New Zealand?

Speaker: Karen (15:02):

Oh, definitely. To live New Zealand. The experiences we had in Australia were amazing. So seeing the Australian Open and some of the holidays that we had there were really fabulous. And just going for walks in the park and having the Rainbow La Keets fly about and things like that was lovely. But no, if I had to stay somewhere and live somewhere permanently, it would easily be New Zealand for both my husband and I. He really enjoyed working in the hospital [00:15:30] system here. So yeah, definitely New Zealand.

Speaker: Richard (15:34):

Oh, that’s absolute music to my ears. Look, I want to thank you on behalf of our listeners, then our team for you taking the time to share your experience with us. I know that you’re packing and readying yourself to go home, but we hope to see you back here one day.

Speaker: Karen (15:49):

Thank you, Richard.

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