IT does seem to be human nature to put people with similar attributes into groupings to make it easier to give structure to a comment or strategy about them.
The epithet of IMG (international medical graduate) has been derived, in good faith, from a series of previous groupings used to describe doctors who arrive in Australia with overseas qualifications. “Overseas” or “foreign” doctors are favourite descriptions used in the lay press.
IMG is a rather “soft” grouping because, while intended to be generic, it actually avoids discrimination. As a Scotsman arriving in Australia in 1982 with an Australian wife, I actually come under the IMG umbrella, yet I am seldom included in the current debate about IMGs.
Today’s IMGs often come from regions such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Some doctors, particularly those from the UK and New Zealand, tend to have less emphasis on their IMG status than others, however unfair that might seem.
Despite federal laws that attempt to stifle discrimination, it is inevitable in real life that ethnicity will rear its ugly head to the disadvantage of many IMGs who have to work harder to be accepted than do those of Anglo-Saxon descent.
This seems to be the human condition which, however odious, would be equally applicable if the movement were the other way around, from here to there.
However, there is no doubt that one of the joys of practising medicine in Australia is the exposure to the fabulously rich cultural diversity in medical, nursing and ancillary staff. There is nothing more rewarding than to work with a buzzing, harmonious group of health care practitioners from half a dozen countries, among whom powerful, lifelong friendships are regularly forged.
However, some IMGs, newcomers to this country, find themselves in isolated, far-flung communities. These outposts are often the last place some IMGs want to be — or indeed should be — but the current system engineers their deposition there.
It is often non-medical sponsors who headhunt overseas doctors and parachute them into a clinic with a computer in a remote town. Rather than feeling part of the community, the driving emotion for the IMG doctor is usually the need to escape.
I visited my good friend Ahmed and asked how he was going in his isolated country town. He said: “Fine, but everyone calls me Mike”. I said: “They are calling you mate”. “But that’s what dogs do!” he said, and so I explained.
I told Ahmed: “Australians swear a lot, generally with no malice, like our use of the term bastard. What do you think that term means?” He replied: “A bastard is a child born out of wedlock”.
“Yes”, I said, “but Australians often use the word bastard in everyday language without intent to insult”.
“Now I understand why my patient called me a poor bastard”, he said.
Getting used to the Australian way can be a lifelong learning experience. The AMA is dedicated to the wellbeing of all its members and it recognises the challenging circumstances of IMGs. Yet, it is not always easy to know who and where IMGs are.
While many IMGs are members of AMA, many others are not, partly because they hold a perception that it is a government or political organisation, which it is not.
AMAQ would love to hear from IMGs with both positive and negative experiences of working in Australia.
It is only by communicating that we, as a profession, might defeat those pernicious prejudices which so inappropriately pervade our health system.
Dr Bill Boyd is Chairman of the Queensland branch of the AMA and a gynaecologist based in regional Queensland. AMAQ can be contacted at amaq.com.au