Working as a locum surgeon: Kevin’s story
General Surgeon Kevin Naidoo has been working as a locum surgeon in New Zealand for more than ten years.
Originally from South Africa, he’s travelled the world while working as a surgeon, seeking better experiences and a better lifestyle for himself and his family.
Training to be a surgeon in South Africa
“Surgical training was pretty onerous. There was no cut off for the number of hours you could do in a stretch, so you could be going for 80 hours at least. But that was part and parcel of what you had to do back then to become a surgeon. It was hard, but I enjoyed it because I knew that was what I wanted to do.
“But the support from senior doctors was very good, it was collegial. I suppose because they knew you would become the next generation that would be looking after their children and grandchildren.”
Dr Kevin explains that South Africa’s larger population, with more cars on the road, meant more trauma. Limited access to tertiary facilities and in some cases, a laid-back attitude, also meant that disease presentations were late.
“You’d see a lot of diseases which are more advanced, partly because people live rurally and partly because of that (similar to the Kiwi attitude) of ‘she’ll be right, if I ignore the problem it will go away.”
Burnout and exhaustion in general surgeons
Long hours and high volumes of patients was the norm in South Africa and like many national health systems, it’s junior doctors and registrars who put in the longest hours. Dr Kevin says this was tough but worth the effort.
“When you have those long hours, you get mentally and physically exhausted and you wonder if what you’re doing is the right thing… But in the scope of your career, you know it’s not going to last forever… you look at your consultants and their lifestyles and you know it’ll get better. Not that you don’t have responsibilities when you get to that level, but the hours are less likely to be so long.”
But Dr Kevin and his family felt like they were often unsafe living in South Africa, so decided to try life and work in a new country. In 2002, they made the move to the UK.
“I worked in different places and that opened me up to being flexible. I’d work for three months in a UK hospital and then we would go to Europe to travel. Then I’d come back to work in a different UK hospital. That lifestyle really grew on me. It was a good introduction to short-term work.”
The work was different too. There was a lower volume and better resources compared to South Africa, but the kind of work general surgeons did was more specific: “different jobs were reserved for different specialities, so that was something to get used to.”
Finding the ultimate lifestyle as a general surgeon
It was an advert in a journal that got Dr Kevin and his family thinking about New Zealand.
“The job was for six months in Tauranga, so we thought it would be a nice way to try life in New Zealand and it would be easy to return to the UK if it didn’t work out. We enjoyed it so we extended our stay for another six months… now we’ve been here for 17 years!”
A better work/life balance has been one of the big reasons he chose to stay:
“You’re a little bit more protected when it comes to overwork and burnout in NZ. In the UK, it doesn’t matter how many hours you do, how hard you are working, or how many patients you’re seeing, you have to finish your work. There’s more protection in NZ to make sure you’re not tired. If you make a mistake when you’re tired it can have significant consequences.”
In 2011, Dr Kevin made another lifestyle choice: he decided to start locuming as a general surgeon through Medrecruit. After enjoying his short working stints in the UK, he knew locuming would enable him to better balance lifestyle and family commitments with work.
“If you are locuming you can choose when you want to work, how long you want to work for and then you can choose when you go back. It’s enabled me to have more time to spend with the family and do things I enjoy like gardening and cooking.”
He’s enjoyed it so much, Dr Kevin is now one of Medrecruit’s top doctors. He’s worked with us for more than 10 years and is reaping the rewards of his well-balanced lifestyle.