Physician finds happiness in New Zealand
By Russell Rian
Since graduating from UT Southwestern nearly 20 years ago, Dr. John Lane has practiced medicine across cultures and oceans, from the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon to a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
These days, he has settled near the beach on New Zealand’s western coastline — quite a distance from his Abilene roots.
“My wife and I told family and friends when we left Texas: ‘Three years if we like it, one if we don’t.’ Now it has been over four years. We bought a house, and we love it here,” explained Dr. Lane, a member of the Class of ’90. “It is no longer a question of how long we will stay but rather of what life will offer next.”
|Dr. John Lane and his dog, Yahtzee, said he enjoys his life and practice in New Zealand.|
So far, his life has been a grand tour.
After graduating from UT Southwestern, Dr. Lane trained in Tucson, Ariz., before establishing a family practice in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake.
But a more adventurous life was already teasing him. He accepted some temporary posts, ranging from weeks to months, that offered some of the world’s best scenery. Mixed in with the Arizona desert and the Caribbean were three separate stints in Hawaii.
“They were fantastic intercultural experiences,” Dr. Lane said.
In 2005 he and his family relocated to New Zealand, where he works as a general practitioner in the Otaki Medical Centre.
“There are so many reasons,” he said. “The most obvious are the lifestyle, outdoor activities, high education standards and wonderful people. My wife, Leah, and I are so happy to make sure our children, Joseph and Isabel, see that the world is a big, wonderful place with great people of many different cultures. I admire New Zealand values.”
Dr. Lane’s practice is in a small town with no local secondary or tertiary services, so most work is on an outpatient basis, a typical family medicine practice, plus urgent and emergency cases.
“In that respect it is the same as any small town in Texas,” he said.
But a look out the door reveals something different.
“I live four blocks from the beach to the west and a mile from the mountains to the east,” he said. “About 57 percent of the New Zealand land mass is publicly owned, and much of it is extraordinary for outdoor recreation.”
Crime and pollution are low, and public education and sports clubs are good, Dr. Lane said.
Most of New Zealand’s medicine is government-based, with local governments paying a monthly fee based on their population. Co-pays are minimal, amounting to about $10 for adults, he said. Emergency and hospital care is free, as are lab tests and X-rays.
Specialist visits and procedures are also free to the patient, but there are waiting lists, he said. Specialists assign a priority rating to patients on the list based on information received from general practitioners.
“So the major downside of medicine in New Zealand,” Dr. Lane said, “is that patients can be on waiting lists of up to six months for a first visit with a specialist and another six months for elective procedures and semi-urgent or routine problems.”
Up to a third of patients in New Zealand have private medical insurance of some type that allows them to bypass the waiting lists, he noted.
All people injured in New Zealand, including tourists, are covered by accidental-injury insurance that covers not only medical costs but also a large fraction of missed salary, outpatient care and even lifelong disability care.
“The other thing the medical system does is lower liability costs so that insurance is very inexpensive in New Zealand,” he said.
Civil litigation is unusual there, he added. “My malpractice premium is less than $1,300 annually and my auto insurance is less than $6 a month.”
The overall price tag is a 39 percent tax rate for incomes over about $45,000, he said.
Dr. Lane has thrived in the environment, recently being named to the The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners. The College, an extension of Britain’s The Royal College of General Practitioners, establishes quality standards, promotes professional development and continuing education, and lobbies for its members.
While content with New Zealand, Dr. Lane said he plans to arrange a one-year job trade with a family practitioner in the U.S., starting about June 2011. That will coincide with his son starting college and his daughter entering high school.