When Archbold physician and Rotarian Keith Lehman retired from his active primary care practice last year, he wasn’t quite ready to give up the active practice of medicine.
He and his wife Jackie longed for a little adventure in a different English speaking country where he could also serve as a locum tenens doctor.
With the help of Global Medical Staffing, the Lehmans settled on New Zealand — specifically Darfield, a farming community on the south island, where for six months he served a primary care practice of five doctors, three of whom were locum tenens.
As a bit of background, Dr. Lehman explained that New Zealand was first settled about 800 A.D. by Polynesians who paddled canoes to what is considered the southernmost islands that are part of the Polynesian island chain.
In 1769, Captain Cook was the first European to discover what would become New Zealand, but it wouldn’t become an English colony until 1840 when Europeans began to settle the islands.
In terms of healthcare, about a quarter of the population has private health insurance and the rest are covered by government supported universal healthcare.
Dr. Lehman explained that everyone in New Zealand needs a primary care doctor to access care. A physician visit requires a $55 co-pay, but everything else is covered except a $5 fee for prescriptions.
He said that healthcare services that can be provided by the primary care doctor as well as critical, emergency care that would need services in a hospital setting such as heart attacks, major illnesses and accidents received excellent care and attention. That level of care was just as good and promptly received as anyone in Archbold would get.
However, when a patient needed non-emergency medical care from a specialist such as orthopedic physician, a long wait could be expected.
Dr. Lehman explained that the primary care doctor would need to provide all of the patient’s background, including test results, to the specialist’s practice for review.
It wouldn’t be uncommon for the specialist to refuse the patient or request more information. Either way, a patient can to wait months for non-emergency care from a specialist.
However, the Lehmans’ stay in New Zealand wasn’t all work. They enjoyed the country, the people, the culture, the climate and the opportunity to explore mostly the south island while they were in-country.
The only thing that took a little time to adjust to was driving on the left side of the road and interpreting some of the road signs.