Keith Buswell has no regrets about spending 36 years as a general practitioner in Te Kuiti.
Professionally and socially, for Dr Buswell and his fellow GP and wife, Dr Elly Kroef, their time in Te Kuiti was so rewarding and challenging, they never considered leaving King Country.
Buswell, who has been semi-retired since February, said while there are fewer health professionals wanting to work in rural practices, the rural lifestyle and the variety of work enticed the couple to stay.
Rural health means dealing with the full scope of medical challenges, of being able, where possible, to treat people from diagnosis through their complete treatment.
It is in part of case of necessity.
“In rural areas you have to because there is no one else on the ground.”
Buswell said the other rewarding feature of rural practice was dealing with consecutive generations of the same family.
“You get to know people as patients and get closely connected.”
Having access to a local hospital meant he had the facilities and scope to challenge his medical skills.
“If you want to be challenged you can because we have a hospital here so you can follow through cases at a more advanced level.”
More needs to be done to give trainee GPs rural experience and to expose them to living in rural areas, he said.
Buswell said he had city-raised staff who trained at Tu Kuiti and loved the lifestyle and challenges so much they moved there.
“People are surprised at how enjoyable it is to live here.”
The Te Kuiti Medical Centre services a community of about 10,000 with medical staff also looking after emergency and after-hours care and a 12-bed rural hospital.
Buswell said finding young doctors prepared to work as rural GPs is becoming more difficult, with many preferring to work in hospitals.
This was underlined in a survey by the Royal College of GPs, which also revealed that a majority of rural GPs have suffered from some degree of burnout.
The 2018 recipient of the NZ Rural General Practice Network’s Peter Snow Memorial Award for his innovation and services to rural health, Buswell worked about 55 hours a week including shift and obstetrics work for much of his career.
As the economics of owning and running a rural GP practice become more difficult, Buswell said the ownership of practices and skills of healthcare workers need to be diversified to take pressure off GPs.
As numbers reduce, the pressure will fall on fewer people.
Recruiting people who do not live in the community in which they work also fractures that sense of community, he said.