His medical career may have taken him around the world, but all roads would eventually lead to Newcastle.
Dr Niall Jefferson has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember. The Newcastle-based ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist grew up around his father’s medical practice in Perth, and an interest in the profession took hold early.
“I’ve always looked up to dad and the kind of person and role model he has been,” says Dr Jefferson. “And I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the body and what it can do.”
Dr Jefferson’s medical career was however, destined to take him far from his family’s GP practice in Perth. He ended up moving across the world which included completing medical school in Ireland, an assistant professorship in Japan, surgical training in Sydney, and further study in the US. But all roads would eventually lead to Newcastle—the location he chose to open his own adult and paediatric ear, nose and throat practice.
A global adventure
Dr Jefferson’s global adventure began when he left Perth for medical school in Dublin as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.
"There was definitely an adjustment period where I had to learn how to budget my money because I’d often run out and be eating Weetbix for dinner,” he says. “But it was a tremendous experience. Mum and dad and the family would come visit once in a while and I would pretend I was behaving. Somehow I managed to get through the first year exams. My work ethic definitely improved from that point onwards."
That work ethic would be put to the ultimate test after he graduated medical school and took on an internship at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital.
“It was insane,” he says. “The first term I did neurosurgery and I was averaging 110 to 115 hours per week. I would sleep on the floor of the doctor’s room at the end of the ward and then get up and press ‘repeat’.” It was during this period that the hardworking young doctor met his wife to be, who was then serving in the US Navy, and followed her to Japan.
“I was young and somewhat naïve. I thought ‘I’m a doctor now, doctors get jobs anywhere’,” he says. “You know where they don’t get jobs? Japan. They have six positions for expat physicians in all of Japan and they only become available when someone dies.” So Dr Jefferson volunteered with the Red Cross at the US Naval Hospital and then secured a job as an assistant professor at a university in Tokyo. But, after three years in the classroom, he was craving the action of full-time medicine again.
That led him back to Sydney for a year-long residency where he discovered his passion for ENT and embarked on a further five years of surgical training before moving his young family to the US to pursue an opportunity to work in one of the largest airway programs in the world at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
“When we got to Cincinnati Airport it was about -15˚ outside. All the kids were in shorts and t-shirts. We unpacked our suitcases and put on about 10 layers,” he laughs.
A dream come true
In the middle of the frozen Cincinnati winter, Dr Jefferson’s thoughts turned back to Newcastle—the beachside city he and his wife had fallen in love with during his surgical training—and the ENT practice he dreamed of opening. “I had been thinking about the elements of my practice that were going to be important to me,” he says.
“I had this sense of really wanting patients to have a positive customer service experience where they felt cared for and important from the moment they made contact with us.”
Dr Jefferson and his wife decided to hire a specialist consultant to help set up their new practice—Ear Nose Throat Newcastle—while he finished his posting in the US. “If you don’t set it up right from the beginning you can make mistakes that end up costing you in productivity, stress and heartache,” he says.
The BOQ Specialist difference
Scott Hutchinson from BOQ Specialist was also vital in helping Dr Jefferson overcome the roadblocks that came with setting up his practice from afar, he says.
“People recommended BOQ Specialist almost universally. They understand that doctors are a unique group.”
Always ambitious, Dr Jefferson planned to open his new practice just a week after he returned to Newcastle from the US.
“When I walked into the building the day after I got back the walls had not been painted, the floors were bare and the light fixtures were hanging from the ceiling,” he says. “But then to see what it was the following week was incredible. After two weeks we were booked out and the momentum is building.”
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