From the big city to the West Coast

By West Coast District Health Board and republished with permission

14 June 2021

Category: Rural


Sally Peet has worked as a Rural Generalist for the West Coast DHB since January 2020, initially as a locum and then in October she became the newest, permanent member of the team. She rotates between Te Nīkau Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) in Greymouth and Buller Health’s Foote Ward in Westport.

Sally grew up in Brighton, England and always thought she would be a nurse as this was her father’s profession.  However, following work experience in a hospital while at high school, a passion for becoming a doctor developed, and Sally moved to London to study medicine at Guy’s, King’s & St Thomas’ School of Medical Education completing her studies in 2007.

“After medical school, I worked in a hospital in Somerset for two years. One evening, while on night shift I decided along with another colleague, that living and working in 鶹Ƶ would be a great adventure, so I applied for a position in Christchurch Hospital. On arriving here, I fell in love with the country, with working in the Emergency Department and with a Kiwi named Ben – definitely in that order,” jokes Sally.

“Three years ago, Ben and I welcomed Jack into our lives, but sadly when I was on maternity leave my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  We all travelled back to England to be with him in his last months.  It was a very tough time, but my father’s death highlighted the importance of a healthy work/life balance, so when we came back to 鶹Ƶ, I decided not to go back to the big city ED, but to work as a locum in rural hospitals, which is how I found myself working in the old Grey Base Hospital’s ED.

Although working as a locum provided Sally with greater flexibility around how she spent her time, it also meant that she was often away from her family who were based in Canterbury. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic was really challenging, and I had to spend long periods away from home during ‘lockdown’. The goal then was to find a great job, in a wonderful place so that we could all be together, all the time.  The West Coast ticked all the boxes and we have just loved making the move here and starting a new life.

“I am currently undertaking study towards a Post-graduate Diploma in Rural and Provincial Hospital Practice through Otago University. This course of study is an advanced, nationally recognised qualification for medical professionals who work in rural and provincial hospitals. It has been pivotal in helping to broaden my skills and experience, enabling me to be well placed to deliver care that meets the needs of Coasters,” says Sally.

“I really enjoy working as an ED specialist in Greymouth as it’s a stimulating environment where I get to meet people from all walks of life as well as continually gaining experience and confidence across a number of areas, for example, paediatrics. 

“However, one of the biggest challenges is the intensity of the work which does increase the risk of ‘burn out’. For me, being able to rotate between Greymouth and Westport has been a good way to overcome this.  Although the work in Westport is still intense (arguably more so at times), the variation provides a great balance.  As they say, a change is as good as a rest – oh and the commute along the Coast Road is just stunning and a real highlight of my working week!”

“When I am working in Buller Health’s Foote Ward, I provide unplanned (emergent and urgent) care to the community. What’s great about working regularly in Westport is that it sets the pathway to establishing continuity of care with patients especially those I see on an ongoing basis as they don’t need to retell their story again. I’ve had patients that I’ve seen at both sites (Buller and Te Nīkau) and that is a lovely side of providing care. It’s often daunting for patients to travel away from home, especially when unwell, so to be able to see a familiar face is a great comfort,” says Sally. 

“It’s also provided a great opportunity to standardise processes and system, for example, Foote Ward’s stabilisation room is set up as a smaller version of Te Nīkau Hospital’s ED. This includes laying out equipment trolleys as well as labelling containers in the same way. These simple changes mean that clinical staff can work comfortably in both locations which in turn results in a better flow of care. We’re also rolling out a new educational programme in Te Nīkau, for doctors and nurses with a ‘theme of the month’ including presentations and simulations – and thanks to video conferencing the programme is accessible to everyone in Buller.”

“The best part about working as a Rural Generalist are the people. I am especially fortunate to work in a fantastic team comprising of a diverse range of people who all bring a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience to the West Coast Health System,”

Dr Sally Peet