GPs encouraged to make the most of Irish connection

Michelle Wisbey

20/12/2023 4:05:07 PM

One doctor's early medical years in Australia – and subsequent return decades later – have pushed him to urge others to follow.

Dr Ray Power.
Dr Ray Power is encouraging Australian GPs to make the most of the Irish connection.

Thirty years ago, Dr Ray Power was in the right place at the right time.
He had just finished medical school in his native Ireland, which involved studying hard and ‘playing a lot of rugby’.
It was 1992 and he decided to take the leap and embark on a working holiday to Australia. While he did not yet have a job, he did have a visa.
‘It’s funny story, but I ended up with my first job being with the Royal Flying Doctor Service,’ Dr Power told newsGP.
‘I knocked on the door and the medical director was there coincidentally, and I said “I’ve just landed in Australia today and I’d love to be a Flying Doctor, do you have any jobs?”
‘He said, “where do you want to go?” and I really had no idea where, so I ended up being with the Flying Doctors … in Port Headland.’
It was during those first six months that he fell in love with Australia and with rural practice, ultimately spending six years as Assistant Director of what was then the Western Australian Centre for Remote and Rural Medicine.
Dr Power believes the lessons he learnt in those formative years set him up for a highly successful career when he eventually headed back home.
‘I really was inspired by what I had seen in Australian general practice,’ he said. ‘It gave me the confidence and energy to establish a network of GP practices in Ireland, and that’s the genesis of Centric Health.’
Growing from that one practice which opened its doors in 2003, Centric Health now has a network of 76 clinics across Ireland, employing 1000 staff and caring for more than 10% of the country’s population.
This year, despite its success – and the demands that inevitably followed – Dr Power felt the need to travel back to where it all began for a second working holiday.
He hopped on a plane and landed around 200 kilometres south of Perth at the Broadwater Medical Centre to care for patients half a world away from his home.
‘Common things are common in general practice, so the pattern of presentation, scheduled or unscheduled, is the exact same,’ he said.
‘We would have a similar approach to intervention diagnosis, using imaging, using pathology, referring to specialist colleagues, it’s just very similar.’
As his second Australian stint comes to an end, Dr Power remains a strong advocate for the two countries to remain connected.
He said several of the administrative barriers which typically prevent doctors from working overseas do not exist between Australia and Ireland, leading to an easier and more streamlined working holiday.
And the connection has already proven popular among Ireland’s medical students.
Last year alone, 442 Irish doctors were issued with temporary work visas for Australia, and in 2021, 62 of the University College Cork’s 77 medical students were practising down under.
In Australia, the RACGP has already committed to simplifying the process for International Medical Graduates to work on our shores following previous complaints of complexity.
‘I’m trying to encourage likeminded Australian colleagues to do something like me, but there is little awareness that there’s full recognition between the RACGP and the Irish College of General Practitioners,’ Dr Power said.
‘Irish doctors can come here, and Australian doctors can come to Ireland, and unlike the UK where they’d have to be a register again and get paid as a registrar, in Ireland they get full recognition, straight in, working away as a specialist GP and getting well paid.
‘The working conditions, and the scope of practice, and the facilities, and the environment is identical so it’s like glove in hand, it’s very straightforward.’
Moving forward, Dr Power said he would like to see GPs able to move to a variety of different countries with minimal red tape, both to fill workforce shortages and to offer young doctors a full range of experiences.
‘I was sharing the concept of a WONCA passport, so that’s one organisation which would standardise the recognition of training for countries with similar qualifications and similar training,’ he said.
‘For a lot of the Australian doctors, it will be more like a working holiday and there will be a chance to earn Euros and to explore.
‘I learned an awful lot from working in Australia and there’s no doubt that Australian GPs would learn a lot in Ireland as well.’
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Dr Sean Colin Chesson Stevens   22/12/2023 6:07:58 PM

Was great to see Ray back in Australia at WONCA, he may be 30 years older but his work ethic and sense of humour are just as good!