Fresh out of residency, Dr. Ross trades
With suitcases packed and traveling shoes laced, Benjamin Ross, MD traded the mighty Mississippi for the expansive Pacific with his wife, Stephanie along for the adventure, too. Fresh out of residency from a public hospital in Iowa, Dr. Ross was ready for a break from the ordinary and primed to practice medicine in a new country. "I always thought New Zealand was a fascinating place; and since we don't own a house and don't have kids it was an ideal time to take an assignment" he says. There are things they'd miss about home but they were on to greener pastures (really, the grass is greener in New Zealand).
corn fields for greener hills
Settling into their new home on the North Island didn't take long; they quickly grew accustomed to hearing 'kia ora' ("welcome"). "The locals have been great" says Dr. Ross, "We have newfound friends that we play touch rugby and indoor soccer with and we recently went to a Waikato Chiefs game with a group of mates." Stephanie volunteered at the Health and Disability Resource Center, which she says was a "great way to help out and meet new people."
Adapting to the New Zealand healthcare system wasn't much of a stretch for Dr. Ross, "At first glance their system seems different...but ultimately, the outcomes are similar at about 1/3 the cost of the U.S. system." And the Kiwi way of doing things in the hospital wasn't hard for him, eitherhe immediately felt a sense of camaraderie with the other General Practitioners; in fact, he says he developed great relationships with all the staff.
His work schedule gave him the freedom to travel, tramp and traverse all across Aotearoa. "It's hard not to be comfortable working a schedule with no nights or weekends so soon after residency" says Dr. Ross, "We had plenty of time to explore the North Island and quite a bit of the South Island, too."
On days off they took to the road, everywhere from Cape Reinga at the Top of the North Island to Bluff at the tip of the South Island and in between. The road trips, Dr. Ross explains, were alive with "rolling green hills, winding roads and stretches of shape shifting shores." On a drive to Wellingtonfor a Rugby World Cup match between the U.S. and Australiathey stopped overnight in Taupo, a town in the center of the North Island, and awoke the next morning to the crystal clear waters of the town's eponymous lake "it was so clear I could hardly believe it!" Stephanie recalls.
The next day, low on petrol but high on spirits, they arrived in the "Capital of Cool" (Wellington) ready for rugby where Australia (sadly) beat out the U.S. 67 to 5. The Americans shook off the loss and explored the celebrated Te Papa Tongarewa ("place of treasures of this land") Museum which tells the story of New Zealand through art and science. To end the night they went to a local pub to share in drinks and enthusiasm while the All Blacks (New Zealand's rugby team) defeated France 37 to 17. After, Dr. Ross officially dubbed Wellington a "cooler San Francisco".
Before long, the Rosses knew all the great pubs, all the great rugby matches to watch and the countless back roads only the locals know. On the way to "Gizzy" (Gisborne) on one of those roads, they saw the easternmost lighthouse in the world, the longest wharf in the Southern Hemisphere, Cook's Cove, the colorful Tolaga Bay, a rare flood plain and Te Urewera National Park. They also ventured to Rere Rock Slidea smooth, natural rock formation that's like the North Island's own natural slip 'n slide. Nearly 200 feet long (60 meters), the Rere is coated with running water ripe for boogie-boarding, tubing and sliding.
The spoils of New Zealand captivated the Rosses so much"waterfalls are everywhere and clouds spill out over endless mountaintops"that soon friends and family from the States had to see it for themselves. One ten-day trip on the South Island, for instance, Dr. Ross simply calls stunning, "After getting off the ferry in Picton we took a scenic jaunt on the Queen Charlotte Drive, over the mountains to Nelson, around Tasman Bay, and through the peaks to Takaka...we continued on to Farewell Spit and stayed until dark."
Aotearoa may mean "Land of the Long White Cloud" in Maori, but for Dr. Ross and Stephanie it means living life unencumbered, "We had plenty of time for our social lives and loved living so close to diving and tramping opportunities." Alas, they say "cheers!" to speeding their car down Ninety Mile Beach, watching Kea parrots burglarize a campervan in Fiordland National Park and yelling their lungs out at rugby matches. The work experience and friendships gained won't be forgotten, either. They made many memories and the year may have passed too quickly but Dr. Ross says they'll "remember the whole year as a very pleasant blur."
Want to read more about their New Zealand exploits? Here's their blog.