Not all beer and skittles

VICTOR Coopman has been in Australia less than four months but has already worked in Wagin, Esperance and Three Springs, and is now in Pannawonica.

This visitor from the Netherlands is neither a back-packing youngster keen to conquer Australia’s vast distances, nor a young professional itinerant on a first overseas tour.

He is keen to see the world, however, after 30 years as a general practitioner in the Netherlands.

“I’d seen enough there and wanted to see the rest of the world," Dr Coopman said.

"I wanted to go to Africa first, but my wife said: ‘Not Africa first’.”

Dr Coopman compromised, after hearing of someone who had been to WA.

Comparing it to living “like a gypsy lives” at times, Dr Coopman’s experience has not been all beer and skittles.

“We’ve seen it all,” he said, although in saying so both he and wife Fenneke were laughing at most of it.

“Australian people are open and nice, that’s the good part of it.

“They’re always glad that you’re there.”

Before Dr Coopman arrived in Wagin, there had been no doctor in the town for six months, and in Three Springs, none for more than a year.

In Esperance he did holiday relief for one of the town’s few doctors, including some work in the busy 40-bed hospital, and in Pannawonica, the only doctor had left three months prior.

What the Coopmans cannot yet see the humour in is the bureaucracy encountered in their attempt to help alleviate an acute medical shortage.

Neither coordinated nor streamlined, ‘the system’ that claimed it wanted experienced doctors required that Dr Coopman to battle time differences, despite email contact, to initially acquire and fill in application forms for a working visa.

And the process to finally obtain this visa was in linear steps, rather than concurrent, something unanticipated, and involving lots of waiting time, which Dr Coopman graciously attributes to understaffed agencies.

After this was done, Dr Coopman was then told he would require a sponsor, so on approaching the AMA, began gathering letters from other doctors and specialists to prove his authenticity, and from the police to secure clearance.

Next step was back at the embassy, with sponsorship paper intact, to start a new round of paperwork.

This was followed by mandatory medical clearances for both Dr Coopman and his wife, again required on particular forms, and with a ‘wait and see’ period.

Once the visa was granted, Dr Coopman assumed there would be no more waiting.

But he was wrong.

The AMA then had to do its paperwork to specifically enable Dr Coopman to work within the Federal and WA health systems.

It was at that stage that Dr Coopman was then asked for his original medical training records, from 30 years ago.

Dr Coopman and his wife were in WA by mid-April but on further checks were surprised to be asked for further paperwork from home.

And what is Dr Coopman’s advice to others contemplating coming?

“I’d recommend it,” he said.

“Everyone should come – nice people, nice climate, nice country with lots of space.

“So long as you don’t get emotionally involved in the bureaucracy – it’s terrible, and stupid.”

With the remoteness and older GPs coming here, now, with their partners, Dr Coopman recommends additional thought be put into trying to hold onto people longer.

While appreciative of support from the shires and the AMA, and hailing the mining town of Pannawonica as "perfect", Dr Coopman recommended expanding the pastoral care aspect.

Top of the list, after fixing the bureaucratic irritants, would be ensuring good living conditions and offering something for partners to do.

“It can be very lonely – it is certainly remote here,” Dr Coopman said.

“It’s a matter of how long you like that.”

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