I glanced at the house one final time. The 4-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom colonial house, painted in Traditional Yellow by Benjamin Moore, boasted an attached garage and a small yard with barren trees and a lawn frosted over by the New England winter. The location was excellent – a 20-minute bike ride away from the commuter rail, which would take me to the hospital within an hour. Our realtor was right – this was the perfect house, and if we took out a 30-year mortgage, we would be able to afford the monthly payments.
I noticed a pit in my abdomen which expanded as I envisioned our future unfolding before us – of juggling our work schedule, 3 hours of daily commute, while taking our children to piano lessons, softball practice, and Indian dance classes. I also imagined continuing at an academic job where I faced the expectation of publication to eventually be promoted out of an ‘Instructor’ title. I sighed. It was the perfect house and a more than acceptable future.
I turned to Emeric. “Shall we make an offer? I think this one’s it!” He silently shook his head, and I promised myself I’d revisit the issue with him later. We shifted our focus to our vacation in Spain, as our flight was leaving later that day.
What if we moved here?
We spent the next couple days roaming the Moorish alleyways of Granada, picnicking under the shade of olive trees, and admiring the Roman Aqueducts in Sevilla. One afternoon, while sipping a Jerez wine with notes of raisins, molasses, and caramel, Emeric reflected:
“What the f@#$! are we doing, looking for a house in the US. We’ve always talked about living abroad!”
He was right. Emeric and I had both grown up in ‘foreign’ cultures, longed to re-experience some of our childhood delights, and fantasized about recreating these magical moments for our children. Emeric yearned for summers in the French countryside, savoring his grandmother’s apricot tarts, and biking past ancient castles. I yearned for the enchantments of my childhood in India, watching coconut trees thrash in the monsoons, inhaling the aroma of cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, and watching in awe as my grandmother magically transformed a long piece of patterned fabric into an elegantly draped sari.
“What if we moved here?” I blurted out.
We both chuckled then fell silent, crushed by the weight of what seemed like an unattainable pipe dream. How could we do it? How could we move abroad and practice medicine? Where could we move?
We Started Exploring
We started googling. We posted on White Coat Investor . We started asking around. Eventually, we connected with a physician who had moved to Canada, a colleague who had moved to New Zealand, and a psychiatrist who had returned from a stint of telemedicine while into the US from Brazil. Moving abroad was no longer impossible. It was very possible, and it had been done.
As we shared our dream of living and practicing medicine abroad with colleagues, friends, and family, we received very different responses. Some were very excited and wanted to know how they too could live abroad. Others reflexively responded with “you can’t do that” and many asked us why we would want to leave the US when most physicians throughout the world dream of practicing there. Some recommended we wait to take sabbatical and others advised us that it was a “huge career risk”.
But for us, the bigger risk was a dream not lived. We found ourselves leaving the path we had tread with our friends and colleagues – from anatomy class in medical school, to the trenches of ICU nights in residency, to the many asks of attending life. Instead, we found ourselves walking alone, without clear guideposts.
Emeric explored many tele-psychiatry options and created his own telepsychiatry private practice – pre-COVID, from scratch. I searched for telepalliative care positions and found few options. I’ve since teamed up with colleagues and we have started our own telepalliative care company.
Building a Community
In walking this path, we struggled to find a “How To” guide to practicing medicine abroad. So one day in April 2020, urged on by fellow members of our community, Hippocratic Adventures was born, a resource we wish we had had and a community with whom we could share our own Hippocratic Adventure.
Dr. Ashwini Bapat is a palliative care physician, Founder and CEO of EpioneMD, which provides virtual advanced care planning and serious illness coaching to individuals and telepalliative care consultation to healthcare organizations. She resides in Portugal.