A Māori doctor who turned his back on a surgical career to train as a GP in his home town to spend more time with his family has won an award as a role model for future GP trainees.

Paeroa GP Martin Mikaere, who opted to become a community GP rather than continue his orthopaedic training, gave a presentation at the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners’ annual conferencebefore being presented the Peter Anyon Memorial Medal.

Mikaere said it was having some rare time off on the beach from his  80-100 hour working week in his orthopaedics role that led him to re-think and decide to become a GP.  During a “fantastic couple of days” boogie boarding with his son and daughter he said it started to dawn on him what was important.

“I had been working hard – and absolutely loving my job – but barely seeing my family.”

On his first day back at the hospital Mikaere 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  the GP education programme Mikaere said he was thoroughly enjoying work at the Te Korowai practice in Paeroa which has about 1,700 patients, 70 per cent of whom are Māori.

His address focused on three general practice challenges, 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.”

A further challenge, one he had personal insight into, was the issue faced by GPs providing care to those close to them.

He  said he understood 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 wasn’t straightforward.

“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 challenge was how to primary care took the best advantage of new technologies.

Medical Educator Sally Cater said in her award citation that: “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.”

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