Sometimes inspiration comes from the place you least expect. Mike explains how sitting down to answer some routine emails set him on a path to a new job and a new country...
What makes a GP who has established strong connections to local primary care services, developed an interest in education, reached the (for him enjoyable) heights of working on national committees related to training development and is happily married, decide that the right thing to do is to step away from all these for nine months and go to northern Jordan?
In my case the process started one Sunday night in late July as I caught up on e-mails before the start of the working week. This normally includes looking at the weekly blog from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chair, a good source of information on new guidance or changes. On this occasion, at the end was an advert from the RCGP international department, recruiting for a GP to work in Jordan… in a largely educational role (my comfort zone), with Syrian refugees (I’d worked in Arabic when I spent a couple of years in Yemen right at the start of my GP career and had always wanted to return to the area and re-immerse myself in the language and culture). It looked interesting, but the application date was only a short time away!
It would be an opportunity for us to look at the lives we led from different angles
My wife’s response was that I should apply; I could always withdraw once I found out more about the role. It would be an opportunity for us as we both approached retirement age to look at the existing lives we led from different angles. We both knew that it would be hard not to share all of the challenges together (as we had in Yemen), but she felt she had a commitment to the course she was running 2017-18 and that she did not want to be a “plus One” tagging along. Standing on our own two feet for a bit would do both of us some good. We’d both have to learn to live more independently and put effort into developing bonds in different ways.
My CV had not been kept up to date, either in style or contents, but luckily my middle daughter was up for a visit… More complex was the dawning awareness that MSF wanted to fill the post from early October and for the person appointed to go for a week’s induction before this, whilst my commitments to several parts of my portfolio career suggested three months notice (suggesting the end of November as a start time). I told my bosses I planned to apply, especially as I would want to involve them as referees.
I found myself getting more and more keen to be appointed, to be starting something new, to be breaking out of the natural phase of life and following my beliefs
There was a personal journey between sending off the application form and the interview in early August. I found myself getting more and more keen to be appointed, to be starting something new, to be breaking out of the natural phase of life and following my beliefs rather than what was the “sensible” thing to do). I contacted a former post-holder and he was very supportive and enabling. Not all my questions could be answered immediately, but I became sure that this was the right thing to do.
The interview went OK, I thought. I heard from RCGP that I was to be offered the post. There followed an odd phase when my communication was through the RCGP but all the decisions were being made by MSF. After a while though I was put in contact with the HR department at MSF, and started to discover that though my career had been full of acronyms (all the medical conditions and processes possible seem to have a set of initials, CCF, IHD, COPD, CDM, ARCP etc.) I was now entering a world of totally new acronyms and that I’m a baby in this world, confused and sometimes even initially seeing myself irritated by the range of these.
It is fascinating to move into a new culture
It is fascinating to move into a new culture. I found myself at one point suggesting that a small bit of the organisation could be done differently. The friendly response that I got back was firm though that this was the process (and I saw that questioning it would be unhelpful). I’ve now paused and realised that my suggestion was not important, that I’ve very little experience in this system / organisation. Though I may have a fresh pair of eyes I have also got to respond to requests for feedback rather than offering it, as I have been known to do, from my previous relatively senior position. MSF achieves remarkable things in very challenging situations, sometimes it has felt to me that the organisation may be quite hierarchical (but it is early days and I could be quite wrong!). I’m looking forward to learning how to be effective and productive in a very different organisational and management structure. (Though the NHS is getting more hierarchical too!) I’m also looking forward to exploring how the MSF culture may mix this need for hierarchy, efficiency and logistics with the possibly more ethical humanitarianism of at least some of the volunteers.
I’ve done my online induction now, and even I gave up on giving much feedback by the last few modules as I tried to fit this in whilst also tying up the ends of existing work. So soon I’ll have face-to-face induction and then be starting. Getting some currency made going feel very real!