Career advice

From beach days to bureaucracy: academic nursing in Australia

David Thompson found many similarities with working in the UK – but differences too

When David Thompson took up a post in Melbourne, he found a number of differences to his work life in the UK 

Picture: iStock

I qualified in orthopaedic, general and mental health nursing in the 1970s, spent a decade in coronary care nursing in the 1980s and embarked on an academic career in the 1990s.  

My career since then is that of someone who relishes new challenges and has itchy feet. In 1994, I was appointed professor of nursing at the University of Hull, then York in 1998, followed by professor of nursing research at the Department of Health. I moved to the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2002 and became the UK’s first professor of cardiovascular nursing at the University of Leicester in 2007. 

Three years later, I was appointed a professor of nursing at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia, with the specific remit of building research capacity and capability. The appeal of this position was that I would be based in a newly established, multidisciplinary cardiovascular research centre formally linked to a major teaching hospital and university and be able to establish a major clinical research programme. 

Enticing offer 

I was excited at the prospect of building a team, driving a research agenda and making an impact. The offer was enticing, with the package including senior research staff, administrative support and a very attractive salary. 

Melbourne also appealed, with its history, architecture, culture, cuisine, wine and coffee.

I wasn’t disappointed, although the weather – ‘four seasons in one day’, as the locals say – surprised me and sport, particularly Aussie rules football, dominated everyday conversation. 

 ‘While focusing on the inducements, I overlooked various potential deterrents to working down under’

However, while focusing on the inducements, I overlooked various potential deterrents to working down under: higher taxes, lower pensions, shorter holidays, mandatory health insurance payments and the rapidly rising cost of housing, meals, entertainment and transport.  

Most frustrating were the bureaucratic hurdles, starting with my work and residency visas. My appointment was delayed by six months because the approved visa was awaiting ‘processing’ in a post office in Sydney.  

Another gripe was the internet – I was warned that the internet speed was very slow. I was also told not to end my emails ‘ATB’ ('All the best') – in Australia, this means ‘at the beach’.

Working in a university, I found that academic issues could take second place to administrative, financial and political ones. However, I was honoured to be one of the first nurses elected a fellow of the Cardiac Society of Australia & New Zealand, and to be invited to give the main nursing lecture.  

Connections and cost of living

The similarities between the UK and Australia far outweigh any differences, be it in nursing, higher education or health services. Many ‘poms’ live and work happily in Australia, with at least as comparable or better terms and conditions, work environments and remuneration packages as those offered in the UK.  

Indeed, many find the lifestyle and quality of life there is better, although in some cities – particularly Melbourne and Sydney – the cost of living is on par with London. Melbourne has been voted the ‘world’s most liveable city’ on many occasions, much to the chagrin of Sydneysiders.

I spent eight years in Australia and, on the whole, had very positive experiences, travelling across the whole of the country by road, rail, plane and sea. I became an Australian citizen and made many great and lasting friendships.  

My research collaborations with colleagues in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Melbourne and Sydney continue.  


David Thompson is professor of nursing in the school of nursing and midwifery at Queen’s University, Belfast

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