Between them, Charlie and Sarah Ballam have worked in medicine in the UK, Australia and the North Island of New Zealand. Now happily settled and working in rural medical practices in North Canterbury, the pair say they’d never work anywhere else.
I’m a GP. I work at a rural practice in North Canterbury,” explains Sarah, who is originally from East Anglia in the UK. “I’ve worked in some big practices before and much prefer the small rural practice here. It’s a really nice, tight-knit team and a small community. As a GP in the UK I was doing 10 minute appointments, home visits in my lunch break, and then admin for hours after my appointments at the end of the day. I wouldn’t get home until 7 or 8pm. Here, we get 15 minute appointments and Hurunui Rural Health are incredibly flexible with children and family life. They’re great about juggling hours and the actual workload. I can do my job in the time given, and I feel like I’m doing a reasonable job. In the UK you feel like you’re just firefighting the whole time. It’s not pleasurable. I wouldn’t go back to that.
Charlie and Sarah first arrived in New Zealand together from the UK in 2019. “I’d finished my GP training, and Charlie was a self-employed paramedic doing front line work, so we were in a good position to drop everything and give things a go in New Zealand. I applied for jobs prior to coming, in order to gain a work visa, and got a job in Amberley. We didn’t know anything about Amberley but we loved the location, the rural lifestyle and the fact it was close to an international airport. We also thought it would be a lovely place to bring up children.”
After two years in Amberley, and a proposal atop Mt Lyford, the couple flew back to the UK to get married. What was intended as a six-month visit turned into an 18-month-long sojourn, thanks to COVID restrictions. They chose to return to North Canterbury in 2020 and Sarah took up her current role in Rotherham.
Charlie is a Paramedic Practitioner; a relatively unheard-of role in New Zealand, but one which he is successfully introducing to North Canterbury. “A Paramedic Practitioner (PP) is a trained paramedic who also has a wide range of other primary health care skills,” explains Charlie. “In the UK, PPs support the GP team within a medical practice, doing regular consults and dealing with lower acuity patients. In places where there is a high demand for GPs, the PP role is a brilliant way to take the pressure off the GPs and support the clinical team. Amuri Heath were the first ones to take me on in this role, which would have been a big risk for them. I currently work at four medical practices: Waikari, Cheviot, Rotherham and Hanmer Springs.
“The move for me to work in GP surgeries was very much down to lifestyle. I didn’t want to be rushing around in an ambulance anymore. As a PP at Hurunui Rural Health, the hours are much nicer and the surgeries are very focused on staff welfare. It really feels like family comes first.
I am on call one weekend a month in Hanmer Springs, so Sarah and our daughter Maisie come along and enjoy the pools and the walks while I’m working. We love Hanmer Springs. The scenery is breathtaking and I always think to myself how lucky I am to be able to earn money while visiting such a beautiful place.”
“We also enjoy the walks and bike rides on Mt Grey. We live right at the base of Mt Grey, so I’ll often cycle our local track with our dog and have a picnic at the top.”
“We bought a plot of land and have built our home,” says Sarah. “We love the rural lifestyle here; one we could never afford in the UK. We spend a lot of time on our property, putting plants in the ground, building and maintaining things. It’s our own little retreat.”
“We’ve found it easy to make friends here. The people are all so lovely. There are a lot of ex-pats here too. Working in medicine, particularly in a small town, you’ve actually got something of a friend network before you even arrive. Charlie joined the local volunteer fire brigade, and we met a lot of our friends through that. Now that Maisie is at preschool we’re meeting people there, too.”
“It’s a massively daunting prospect, moving from the UK to a small, rural town in New Zealand, but the rewards are so rich. There are plenty of us over here that have been in the same boat, ready to welcome and support new people. New Zealand is such a friendly place.
“North Canterbury is a brilliant strategic location. You’ve got so many amenities and play areas: slopes, the sea, lovely mountain walks and then you’ve got the international airport, so it’s really a winning combination.”