How this EM Doctor Moved to Australia, and Found a Better Life

Welcome to another Hippocratic Adventures chat! I am Dr. Ashwini Bapat and today we have Dr. Justin Hensley. Dr. Hensley is an Emergency Medicine physician who completed medical school in Tennessee, surgical internship in South Carolina, and an EM residency in North Carolina. He then moved to Texas for 10 years before moving to Australia. His interests include Wilderness Medicine and EMS.

Watch the full video above so you don’t miss out! Below, we share the episode summary and show notes.

1. Tell us your story. How did you end up practicing in Australia? 

The last couple years of practicing medicine in the US have been trying with the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife who’s a pediatrician, and I were looking for a change. We used to live in a part of Texas prone to hurricanes and with climate change we knew it was going to get worse. And with two kids, 8 and 12 years old, we wanted to move to a place that felt really beneficial for our children. We considered moving to Hawaii, or Alaska, but these locations still had the problems of the US healthcare system – prior authorizations, insurance companies, and uninsured patients getting sent into bankruptcy, so we decided to broaden our reach.

I had previously worked in Fiji for 3 months and had met Australian physicians while there. I had also worked in Mozambique and India doing global emergency medicine teaching. We narrowed our search to English speaking countries since we were not fluent in another language. So, we initially considered UK, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. And eventually we narrowed it down to Australia.

2. In making the transition to Australia, did you have to take additional exams?

I did not have to take additional exams. I submitted all my documents to the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine and they conducted a proctored interview over Zoom. The Interview involved detailed questions reviewing my CV and training. Then they decided if my training and experience is “Substantially Comparable”, “Partially Comparable”, or “Not Comparable”.

If your experience is “Substantially Comparable”, then you go through 3months – 1 year of supervised training, to get experience in the Australian healthcare system. They may also have a research requirement. I personally did 3 months of supervision with 1 supervised intubation. Most EM colleagues had to do 1 year of supervision with or without research. None of my US board certified EM physician colleagues had to take additional EM exams.

For more information about getting licensed in Australia check out our Ultimate Guide to Practicing Medicine in Australia.

3. How did you approach finding a job in Australia?

I initially applied to work on a rescue helicopter and had that job offer in hand, this helped us decide on moving to Australia. Then while I was applying for licensure and registration, I applied for additional EM positions.

4. What is it like to work in Australia? Any notable differences compared to the US?

In the ED, there are some minor differences such as the names of medications, they really prefer generic names. The major difference I noticed was that documentation is all on paper! There is a drug chart which is separate from the fluids chart. The discharge summary is given to the patient which is then brought to the general practitioner.Almost all patients have a general practitioner. There is also less of a fear that you will be sued, so you can practice cost-effective and good care.

Typically, the expectation is that you average 1 patient per hour in the ED! This is because the physicians will collect the blood, label the tubes, send it to the lab, place the IV, and collect and administer medications to the patient. Because of that, you spend a lot more time with the patient and I really enjoy that. I also typically work 38 hours a week, 9 of which are administrative.

I also work as a physician on an ambulance helicopter, essentially a mobile ICU. I work alongside a critical care paramedic to transport critically sick patients or those from a major trauma, accident, drownings, or some cardiac arrests. The state of New South Wales is huge, approximately 25% bigger than Texas, and a helicopter allows for quicker transport.

Learn more about work culture here.

5. How do your income/benefits in Australia compare to that of a traditional EM position in the US? 

The majority of EM positions in the US are as contractors and so most EM doctors are not salaried, and don’t have benefits. In Australia although there are locum, contractor positions, the majority of the EM positions are as employees. Hence you get benefits, administrative time, and a better work life balance.

If the Australian dollar and the US dollar were the same, my pay would be the same. But obviously they aren’t. Financially, it is not a huge hit. But for me, I feel like I work 50% less than I would in America and make 75% of what I would have made in the US. So for the type of lifestyle I have, with less stress, this change is worth it.

Learn more about salary here.

6. What have you enjoyed most about your move to Australia?

We have a mother and baby possum that visit us and cockatoos that land on our deck! 

Just getting the kids to experience a new thing – the school day is shorter, so it is less stressful for them, and there is a lot more family time. Our 8-year-old and 12-year-old have adjusted really well. Since I am not working the crazy shifts I worked in the US we go for walks as a family now!

7. Anything you wish you had known in advance?

I wish there had been a resource that provided an estimate of the cost associated with moving to a particular country. Such as the cost associated with licensure, registration, shipping a container of your stuff, and immigration fees. Our shipping costs were around 20,000 USD, 10,000USD for medical licensure, the visa was a couple thousand dollars, so it adds up.

I also wish I had known earlier how easy it was for an EM physician to move to Australia because I am now on the upper end of the age limit for permanent residency in Australia. In Australia, you can’t get permanent residency if you are older than 45 unless you are in one of their special visa classes.

8. Rapid-Fire Questions

We will ask 3 “Rapid Fire” type questions at the end which are meant to induce short/off the top of your head type answers. These will be fun

a. What is a cool place you visited after moving to Australia?

b. What is a piece of advice you would give to someone who is on the fence about moving to Australia?

c. Has this relocation and move been worth it?

Watch the video to learn Dr. Hensley’s answers!

Wanna move to Australia?

We have partnered with Dr. Carmen Brown, of ExpatMD, who can show you the ropes. Mention Hippocratic Adventures for a 10% discount on their services. Sign up for guidance here!

Explore job opportunities in Australia here!

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