A Canadian native, Dr David Moniz almost came to Australia by accident…and despite the best efforts of a scorching Aussie summer he stayed on.

Little did he know he’d be here more than a decade later, with a beautiful spot on the Murray River to call home. Patrick Daley spoke with the new RVTS Chair about his journey through medicine and across the continents, and his future vision for RVTS.

Tell me a little about your background – you had quite an interesting pathway to rural practice in Australia!

That’s right! I’m originally from Canada – I lived near Vancouver as a kid, then on Vancouver Island during my high school years, before moving to Vancouver for university.

I studied a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry – I was planning a career in medical research – but after starting my PhD I realised that spending hours staring into a microscope was not for me. I wanted that direct connection with patients.

I came to Australia in 2009 to study medicine – I was in the second cohort to go through at Deakin University.

While I was there, I was President of both the Medical Society and the International Students Society – leadership roles are something that have always interested me.

Why did you choose Australia rather than Canada to study medicine?

Part of it was to do with the timing. I had completed my Master of Science when I decided to study medicine, but it had not been conferred in time for me to apply to the Canadian universities, as their medical school terms start in September. Australia’s terms start in February, however, so it was a case of perfect timing!

My dad had also travelled to Australia previously and I was keen to travel here too.

It ended up being a bit like a scene out of a Hollywood movie – getting everything organised against all odds in the final days before Christmas?

Absolutely! Deakin wanted to interview me via video link before accepting me into their course – but Zoom wasn’t a thing back then, so I was madly scrambling around Vancouver trying to find somewhere to link up.

Then I had to get a visa medical examination done. I was meant to be going to my family’s place on Vancouver Island for Christmas, but I had to delay that to find what I’m pretty sure was the only medical clinic still open on Christmas Eve that could do visa medicals.

My visa came through a week before I was due to travel to Australia. Then I had to get a loan, book my flight, sell all my stuff, and move out of my apartment.

It wasn’t until I was flying over the Pacific Ocean that I thought “What the hell have I just done?! I’m on the way to the other side of the world, and my whole life is in two suitcases – this is crazy!”

And the temperature on arrival in Melbourne didn’t help…?

No…when I got on the plane in Vancouver, it was minus ten, and when I got off the plane in Melbourne it was forty degrees. It was two weeks before the Black Saturday bushfires. I got off the plane wearing four layers of clothes…and I very nearly bought a ticket straight home.

Was there something about growing up in Canada that interested you in working rurally?

The areas I grew up in were big cities, but I found them too impersonal and hated the traffic. I always wanted to live in a small town and become part of a community.

As it happened, my grandparents lived on a small hobby farm on Vancouver Island. I loved the space on their farm and that helped shape my passion for rural living.

And what about medicine – were there early factors in choosing that as a career path?

I had a few illnesses as a child, and my mum had also been ill at one stage. The doctors were always there to help, and I liked the thought of being able to do that for others.

Dr David Moniz and family...from the Australian surf to Canadian snow, with just a short 15 hour plane ride in between!
Dr David Moniz and family...from the Australian surf to Canadian snow, with just a short 15 hour plane ride in between!

How did you become interested in rural medicine?

I always had this notion that I wanted to become a neurosurgeon – then in the third year at Deakin we started clinical placements.

My first hospital rotation was at Warrnambool in south-west Victoria, and I started to realise that the broad picture medicine you get to do in rural settings was more to my taste.

Then in fourth year I had a placement at the local general practice, and I just loved it. I got on really well with the GPs, enjoyed the connection with the patients, and found the work really interesting.

But I still had a notion I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, so I organised an elective at Royal Melbourne Hospital for four weeks.

It was bloody awful!

Around the same time, I also did an elective in Canada – I spent six weeks in a very remote town called Inuvik, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. It is ‘properly remote’ – it has no road access for twelve weeks a year because the river is still frozen and the ice roads are melting.

Inuvik had a small community hospital run by GPs. They did obstetrics, surgery, anaesthetics, emergency, everything. It was a phenomenal experience and it struck me very clearly – ‘This is what I want to do’.

What brought you back to Australia?

I had an Australian girlfriend at the time, and I also secured an Australian internship at Geelong Hospital. Thereafter I met my now wife, who is also Australian. That cemented it.

In 2015, you moved to Katherine in the NT to undertake your GP training. Tell me about that.

It was eye opening! You basically melt for six months of the year up there. [Laughs]

I started off in a general practice. One of the GPs had been working there for more than 40 years – he was phenomenal and did everything.

He had trained before computers were a thing, and he didn’t have one in his room, so you’d ask him a question and he’d know exactly which text book to go to…and then he’d go to the exact page and say “This is what we need to do”.

My direct supervisor had been there for 24 years and he also did everything – they were both very impressive doctors.

In my first year as a registrar there, I was doing skin excisions, antenatal and postpartum care, chronic disease care, paediatrics and more. When I spoke with my fellow registrars in Melbourne they weren’t doing any of that stuff.

I spent my second six months there with an Aboriginal Health Service – that was my real introduction to Aboriginal culture and healthcare. It was incredible to see the strength of people in that community against such devastating co-morbidity and adversity.

After working at Katherine Hospital doing some obstetric and ED work, I moved to Darwin for my anaesthetic training. Then I returned to Katherine to work for two more years in both general practice and at the hospital.

Where are you working and living now?

I’m currently working in general practice in Corowa and doing anaesthetics in Swan Hill. Next year I’m stepping away from general practice for a while and just doing anaesthetic work in Swan Hill, Grafton and Broken Hill on a fly-in-fly-out basis. I’m hoping this will provide me with an opportunity to spend more time with my wife and three young kids when I’m home, as well as do things like my RVTS work.

We never intended to move to Corowa, but we are really glad we did. We left Katherine in January 2020 with a plan to travel around Australia in a caravan, but the pandemic struck. We fell in love with Corowa and bought our house here – it’s been such a wonderful, welcoming community to be part of.

David and his family on holidays in Canada, and enjoying the North American experience!

David and his family on holidays in Canada, and enjoying the North American experience!
David and his family on holidays in Canada, and enjoying the North American experience!

How did you become involved in RVTS?

When I was in Katherine there was a registrar who was initially going to train through RVTS, and he’d nominated me as a supervisor. While that didn’t end up happening, I became very interested in the program – I loved the innovative nature of it.

Then in 2021, ACRRM put out a call for representatives on the RVTS Board – I thought the opportunity to sit on the RVTS Board would be a good chance to develop my non-clinical skill set.

I also have a strong interest in GP education and training. I have been a Medical Educator for ACRRM since 2019 and recently joined Charles Sturt University’s medical school as an Adjunct Lecturer. I am hoping I can show students what a great career general practice (particularly in the bush) can be!

What do we need to do to get more young doctors to rural communities?

We need to promote what we love about rural practice, and make it the sought after place.

In my medical student years, Warrnambool had not been a preferred option for placements – but consistently, the highest marks in the class started coming from students who had trained there.

Ultimately, everybody ended up wanting to go there, because people like me would tell everyone else what a great experience they’d had.

We need rural doctors to be selling rural medicine and saying why we love it.

In your view, how successful has RVTS been in getting doctors to the bush, particularly through Targeted Recruitment?

The fundamental model of RVTS – that you train in the rural, remote or First Nations community in which you are working – is phenomenal. Training in the one location really helps you to grow roots there.

Targeted Recruitment is expanding on that. We’re filling high workforce need locations with doctors who are loving these places and staying on, to the point where places in the program are now oversubscribed. It’s such a wonderful program, and there’s definitely scope to expand it should additional funding become available.

What will be the challenges and opportunities for RVTS in the next ten years?

It will be interesting to see how the remote GP training space will look over the next few years under College-led training. Our goal is to keep RVTS as an independent provider of both GP training and targeted solutions for rural, remote and First Nations communities.

RVTS is in a prime position to help guide the Colleges on how to do distance education – we’ve been doing it for 20 years, and we have a very high pass and retention rate.

What are your interests outside medicine?

I love my 4WD adventures and camping, and I’ve been involved with the Scouts since I was a kid. I have also been dabbling in flying lessons and eventually want to get my pilot’s licence. I also love to travel and explore new places and cultures.

In ten years’ time, where will you be…and what will your work mix be?

I’ll potentially be travelling between Australia and Canada, as I’d like to have my kids spend some time both here and there.

Career-wise, I’ve always thought that eventually I might like to transition away from purely clinical medicine. Currently I’m doing a Masters of Public Health and Masters of Health Leadership and Management. I’d like to get into some health policy development, research in primary care or rural and remote healthcare, or a role as a hospital administrator, Director of Medical Services or a Chief Medical Officer. I’ve also got some ideas about how to bridge the gap between AI and rural and remote medicine!

But I also want to maintain my clinical skills, and continue to do some work in general practice and anaesthetics.

Maybe you could fly yourself between Australia and Canada – although it would be a rough flight in a Cessna!

[Laughs] I’d be keen – but I’m pretty sure my wife would elect to fly in something a bit bigger, and maybe with a few more engines!