Life as a jetsetting GP

5 minute read

For a doctor who left Scotland to explore the extremes of the Antipodes, general practice is anything but.

“You’ll be the new doctor then?” came a query at the petrol station of a northeast Scottish town.

Soon after, a more urgent inquiry: “Do ye ken what this is?” as a finger was thrust into my vision – “that’s orf!”

So started my foray into the glorious opportunity and privilege that comes with becoming a GP.


A daytime home visit often meant a tempting invitation – “the last doctor used to have a wee nip of whisky with his shortbread” – whereas at night things truly became weird. A swinging lantern, reminiscent of the Cornish wreckers, signalled arrival at a croft, truly “off the grid” before it became trendy.

Uber medicine – home delivery – by the National Health Service was avidly welcomed at 10.30pm. I spent a very satisfactory hour with a gentleman who thought nothing of the lateness of the doctor’s visit. It was only when I stepped back out into the street, flushed with success, that I was hailed, not quite so kindly: “Are ye the doctor?  – we’ve been waitin’ for ye for over an hour!” Wrong house.

And so the rich tapestry of life overseas beckoned.

New Zealand

A fully fledged GP next flew the nest to the Land of the Long White Cloud – I felt it must be an improvement on a constantly raining grey one. Suddenly my reality had become sprinting under the blades of a helicopter whirring and ready for action, to scoop up neonates from around the North Island of New Zealand. I had morphed into a paediatric doctor! Many joy flights over Ruapehu, and near White Island, challenged the pilot as his job description expanded to include neonatal babysitting, as the incubator was in the front with him.

Watching the alien volcanic landscapes I pondered the unexpected breadth of opportunities for a Glasgow medical graduate.

Northern Territory

Cycling to work is good, but taking a plane even better, I discovered, eventually bowing to the Scottish perception that everyone in Australia is a flying doctor.

Arriving in a remote desert community in the NT, the hushed lowering of the steps like the rolling out of a red carpet, is as close as I will get to the Oscars. Through the throng of hundreds gathered there for the spectacle, a car would scream up. A wheelchair clutched on the roof would be thrown off, a person would be ejected from the back seat and our patient had arrived for their Royal Flying Doctor experience.

Becoming a rural and remote doctor in Australia involves often being a bit far flung. The Tiwi Islands introduced me to delicacy of mangrove worms, brimming with a yet to be discovered potent fertility drug. Protesting vegetarianism, I eschewed the potential powers of the still wriggling large worm, especially as consumption had to be whole and live.


Transport to Thursday Island’s necklace of wonderful islands and the birthplace of Mabo by helicopter proved to be a little hairy, as the young pilots detailed the challenges of flying in the tropics. Pilot whales cruised the channel close to the hospital, and a large green frog jumped around my home, often settling between the toilet bowl and the toilet roll holder to surprise the night visitor.

Running tracks in Bamaga terminated at a delicious water hole guarded by the drumming black cockatoos. Dangerously though, Scottish lassies are slow to recognise that crocodiles reside in the billabongs and “cheeky” cows or donkeys often are ready to charge.

Norfolk Island

Shopping in remote areas can comes with its own rules, for example the thought-provoking “No nappy – no shopping”. Norfolk Island, on a spectacular but precariously placed volcano, 500km from the Australian mainlands, requires some foodie forward thinking. The general store looked like a covid lockdown blitz but with a surfeit of toilet paper. Non-arrival of the barge meant MasterChef type manipulations of passion fruit, yoghurt, eggs and cabbage in limited variations. The next two weeks firmly introduced me to the world of “making do”.


Food is ever important and a recent foray into Murray Sunset Country introduced its own idiosyncrasies. The vanilla slice hometown beckoned, but little did I know that my bakery rendezvous time was critical. The meeting time of the “Secret Singles – no questions asked” coincided with my indulgence. I only cottoned on afterwards, having misinterpreted all those meaningful glances as just the glazing-over that occurs when you ingest 10,000 calories in one solid slice.


“Would the young doctor like one of these?” He twitched index and middle fingers of both hands and nodded to his wife. Being taught by my father from an early age to never say no – though I think he meant mainly on the dance floor – I said yes, being unaware of this Taswegian secret sign. A freshly caught lobster of massive dimensions was thrust into my arms! That big beastie found me many friends amongst the other locum doctors that weekend.


Even in the big city environs of Melbourne there flourishes a certain need to keep the doctor happy. Wildly waving a large bunch of rhubarb, he stoated (an essential Scottish verb meaning to decisively bounce) off the walls on his trajectory towards my consulting room. Years of experience made me smell a rat, whose name was acute lobar pneumonia. My plea: “Next time don’t worry about the rhubarb!” 

But he was not deterred. The same chap, at the fruit shop, lowered his lips to my ear to urgently whisper “follow me doctor”. Again, my inclination was just to acquiesce. Following him home to collect a white parcel of freshly caught flathead, I reflected on the beauty of those special moments that we share when patients become family.

Dr Cadzow is currently on a camel trek in the Simpson Desert. She’ll be back.

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×