For many years, Australasian trainee Neurologists have come to the UK for training – this has proved very profitable for UK neurology, and helped forge strong links between the countries. It has been less common for UK trainees to make the reverse journey, but both authors of this article have done so – to Perth, Western Australia. Based on our overwhelmingly positive experiences, one of us (RB) decided it was time to encourage UK trainees to travel “down under”, and thus in 2012 the ABN Australasian Fellowships were conceived with the first cohort of trainees starting their fellowships in February 2013. In this article we explain how the system works, and why it represents an ideal opportunity to experience a different (and fabulous) part of the world, see how a different healthcare system functions (for better or worse compared to the NHS), and make new, and lifelong friends.
How does it work?
The Fellowships are advertised (via the ABN and ABNT websites) in the early part of each year, with interviews taking place in April/May. This allows several months for successful applicants to obtain the required visas and other paperwork for starting in the following January/February. It is important for applicants to liaise with their Training Programme Directors early (i.e. at the application stage) to allow TPDs to make suitable cover arrangements for the out-of-program period. Applicants are asked to submit their CV along with a short statement as to why they wish to go, and how best they would represent the ABN.
What’s on offer?
Three 12-month Fellowships are offered each year. The Fellowships are primarily clinical, and begin in February (this being the antipodean equivalent of August in the UK as far as medical jobs are concerned). They form part of ST3+ training and the successful applicants are given 12 months’ accreditation. The venues for each Fellowship change each year, and are carefully selected by ANZAN, the Australasian ABN equivalent. Thus far venues have included Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, and Auckland. The ABN does not provide travel expenses or other financial support, and applicants bear responsibility for ensuring they have the appropriate documentation.
Why should I apply?
They say travel broadens the mind, and whether one considers the professional or social aspects, Australia and New Zealand tick all the boxes. Both are extraordinary countries to explore – but they are a long way away, and, in Australia’s case, vast. Thus spending a whole year there is an ideal way to enjoy all they have to offer. Whilst very different in so many ways from the UK, they speak English (sort of), and the way of life is familiar and thus easy to adapt to. Professionally, the Fellowships offer numerous advantages – not least the prestige of an ABN Fellowship, which will sparkle brightly on your CV, and lift you above the masses.
As laid back as Australasians are, expect to work hard; this is not a year off! Both of us went with the idea that we would enjoy some sunshine, and in between barbecues and eating out wander into hospital occasionally and show our cousins how neurology is done properly. It took less than a week for these foolish notions to be rudely wrenched from us – neurology trainees work hard, and we discovered the pleasure of spending long weekends and nights in the emergency department – no general medical registrar or primary care cushions, many people use the ED as their primary care contact in Australasia, and (curiously), they have the idea that people with neurological symptoms should see a neurologist – first – a quaint idea that should perhaps catch on in the UK. Furthermore, some patients may have literally been flown 1500 miles via the Royal Flying Doctors Service in order for you to give a neurological opinion.
We also quickly learnt that Neurologists down there are pretty good, and most have trained overseas, often in modest units such as the Mayo or Queen Square. We knuckled under, cancelled the barbie plans, and learnt a lot. There is time for play, but don’t be fooled that a Fellowship is one long extended holiday. We enjoyed Carswell’s account of his time, which very much mirrored our own – his stark recounting of unexpected nights in the ED rang very familiar bells (Prac Neurology, in press), and he elegantly provides all the reasons why you should go.
Even now with many years’ experience as Consultants, we still acknowledge that cases seen in Perth, examination tricks witnessed and the experience of seeing ‘front door’ acute neurology influences the way we practice neurology today.
How do I apply?
The Fellowships for 2016 have been already awarded, (this time round to Melbourne and Perth), but 2017 is not that far away, so, watch the ABN website. You will never regret it.