GP Martin Mikaere spoke to the College communications team before delivering his Peter Anyon Memorial Address at GP18.
Most of us enjoy a day at the beach but for Martin Mikaere it proved to be a life-changing moment that ultimately steered him into general practice.
During some rare time off from his orthopaedics role at Whangarei Hospital, Martin recalls how he ‘unwound’ from the 80-100 hour weeks that had become his norm, and had a great time boogie-boarding with his son and daughter.
“We had such a fantastic couple of days together and it started to dawn on me what was important,” he says. “I had been working hard – and absolutely loving my job – but barely seeing my family.”
“People would say I was making a big sacrifice for my family. But the only thing I was sacrificing was my kids’ time with their dad.”
On his first day back at the hospital Martin resigned. “I went in and spoke to the boss. They were disappointed but understood my decision.
“There were people there that I really looked up to, idolised even, so it wasn’t easy to leave. But I knew it was the right thing to do, and that going back to my home community to start GP training would be a much better option for my wife and kids, and extremely fulfilling for me.”
Now in the third year of GPEP Martin is thoroughly enjoying work at the Te Korowai practice in Paeroa which has about 1,700 patients, 70 per cent of whom are Māori.
He sees three particular challenges for the future of general practice, the first being the ‘tough sell’ of getting doctors into rural communities.
“In places like Thames and Paeroa, people complain that they never get to see the same GP. There just isn't the continuity of care because we don’t have enough GPs wanting to live here. I’m really not sure how we can solve this.”
Next on Martin’s list is the always tricky issue faced by GPs around providing care to those close to them.
He understands the Medical Council’s position that this should be avoided in the vast majority of clinical situations but with about 100 whānau living locally it isn’t straightforward.
He says: “On one hand there's encouragement to work in your own communities and help your people, while on the other there’s an expectation that GPs won’t provide treatment to family members.
“That can be very difficult in small places where there are lots of whānau and not many GPs, and it's really difficult to get locums.
“It’s a tough one - is it OK to do consults with second cousins for example? What about first cousins, aunties and uncles? Where do you draw the line?”
The third big thing on Martin’s mind is how primary care takes advantage of technology, an area he says presents great opportunity but which must be approached with care.
All three issues were included in Martin’s address to the conference, a speech he had about six weeks to prepare himself for after learning of his success in a letter from the College.
“I had no idea that I had even been put forward for this. It was a real shock but I have to say it is pretty cool to be recognised like this.”
Medical Educator Sally Cater, who was Martin’s nominator for the Peter Anyon Medal, says in the award citation: “Martin has returned to his home community to become a GP and is extremely passionate about improving the health of the locals in his community. He advocates very strongly for his patients who need secondary health services.
“His story is inspiring for those who may feel that medicine is an out of reach career for them.”