It was with much excitement that I took up my post in Rural Track GP training here in Shetland in August 2012. I had not long returned from New Zealand where I had been living and working for the past eighteen months. Whilst I was there, I heard about the Rural Track programme, and had thought ‘perfect’!
As a GP ST1, I am currently doing my hospital posts in the Gilbert Bain Hospital, Lerwick. The last six months have been spent working on the medical ward (22-bedded unit). In terms of medical staffing, there is one FY1, five SHOs (ranging from FY2/ GP ST1/ CT1-2) and three full-time Consultants. Whilst in this post, I worked between the ward, clinics, medical admissions (seen through our A&E Department) and worked night shifts, covering medicine and surgery (in other words – everything!). I am now based on the surgical ward, following much the same format between wards/ clinics/ admissions/ A&E, with the obvious addition of seeing trauma/minor injuries on a more regular basis, and assisting in theatre. We have three full-time Consultant Surgeons, and three full-time Consultant Anaesthetists. There are four SHOs on the surgical rota, and one Staff Grade who is extremely experienced. As there are no registrars in training here in Shetland, I have a unique opportunity to get involved as much as possible in whatever we want to do. This includes learning airway skills from the Anaesthetists, practicing suturing in A&E and Theatre, and reducing joints/ fracture dislocations.
Each six months, I spend three days in my GP Practice, seeing patients and discussing with my GP Trainer (who is also my Educational Supervisor). Whilst I am in my hospital posts, this provides a valuable link with the community, and helps me to remember that I am a GP trainee!
Shetland consists of one hundred islands with a population of 22000 people. The landscape, and indeed seascapes, here are beautiful: Massive sea cliffs dropping straight into the sea; hillside; moorland with heather. The main town, Lerwick, is situated on Mainland and has a population of approximately 7500. Shetland was part of Norway until the 15th century, when she was handed over to Scotland as a dowry to enable the Danish Crown Prince to marry Princess Margaret. Therefore, the language here was initially an ancient form of Norse, with the latter additions of Scots and English fusing with this to create the Shetland Dialect which many locals still speak.
Public services here are incredible: excellent sports amenities, pot-hole free roads, good local bus service. There are daily ferries heading to Aberdeen (with regular service to Orkney) and Sumburgh Airport (40-minute drive south of Lerwick) provides good links with Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are also direct flights over the summer to Bergen, Norway.
If you are in any way interested in traditional music, then look no further! – Shetland is known worldwide for its rich culture of traditional music. As a fiddle player, I could not wish to be in a better place to improve my playing!
Other activities which I have been involved in are traditional dancing and the triathlon club which is very active here. Sea-kayaking, coasteering, sailing, rowing traditional yoals and fishing are just some of the other activities on offer here, besides excellent coastal walking. There are many exquisite beaches here, with crystal-clear water. For wildlife lovers, I have a colony of grey and common seals who reside right outside my house. I can watch gannets diving in the bay, and puffins in the summer months also. The orcas also come to visit us here. See BBC wildlife presenter Simon King’s Shetland Diaries for a better insight. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qnw3b/episodes/guide
The community here, I think it is fair to say, is the most active one I have ever lived in. There is a real sense of people looking after each other, and of true community spirit. One of the best examples of this is the weekly Sunday afternoon teas which are held in many of the village halls, which raise money for various charitable causes – local, national and international. As an island community, Shetland and Shetlanders could not be more welcoming, and are very keen to involve newcomers in island activities.
Drawbacks? – I’m struggling to think of any. The winter is long, but this is not a bad thing: you have the opportunity to see the beautiful mirrie dancers (aurora borealis) and there are several fire festivals to keep you warm! Alongside some beautiful crisp wintry weather, and some pretty impressive gales...
If you are reading this and sat there wondering “is Shetland for me?”, then I would ask yourself the following:
1. Do I enjoy living in a rural area and, indeed, an island?
2. Would I enjoy participating in community life?
3. Do I like the idea of having a little more responsibility at work, and working directly with Consultants?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to all of the above, then you sound like a good
I am more than happy to be contacted (details below) if anyone is interested and would like to discuss further.
Good luck with the decision-making!
Dr Catherine Brown