Unvarnished truth

Date published
27 Feb 2017

The unvarnished truth – a doctors work experience in rural New Zealand.

Tony Pearson, a GP with over 30 years’ experience, originating from the UK, has spent the last four months working in a practice in the far north of New Zealand. Northland is a remote farming based community. It includes the last major settlement at the top of the North Island, the nearest city is two and a half hours drive. Tony has shared his experience working as a GP in this community.



Working as a roving locum in Northland has been fun, challenging, interesting and rewarding. I have worked in four practices so far, each one is different. I have encountered much rural poverty, with all the social problems that come attached, and low levels of health literacy, which makes it more difficult to be effective. Often people won’t attend with their problems until they really have to, because they can’t afford the consultation, or the prescription, or the transport costs, or the time off work. Some people are on benefits, not always for clear reasons. People in Northland, from all walks of life, are tough. They will stroll in to see me with long standing symptoms that would have had patients demanding urgent appointments in England, and with injuries that would have triggered a 999 ambulance call - crush injuries, head injuries, lacerations, fractures. I have confirmed death in a car park, and sent people into hospital who then mysteriously never turned up.

But people here are kind and generous. Even the gang members and marijuana farmers are respectful of the doctor, provided of course that the doctor is respectful in turn. Taking the time to find out who everyone is (consultations involving multiple family members is the norm), and introducing myself by first name, pays off in easier, more effective consultations. Being asked ‘Who are you?’ in a very direct manner, is common - and not meant to offend, which it would in England. And who I am is more than my name. It includes where I am from, where my family are from, why I am here, my medical credentials, and almost invariably the discovery of a link between us, quickly forming a relationship that might have taken years in my old practice. Shared ancestry, on the part of both Maori and Pakeha, is common, and something to be proud of. Kiwis of all descriptions must know where they come from, in this part of New Zealand at least, and they must know who you are as well.

Friends, neighbours and colleagues have been equally kind and generous, (and equally interested in genealogy!). We have been integrated into the golf club and the bridge club, advised where to eat and shop, and invited out for barbecues and on fishing expeditions. My employer has looked after us. We have a house, a car, and I get paid on time.

We are just four weeks away from the end of my contract, it has worked out very well and I am looking into extending it.