It is well known that Maltese professionals have taken flight and landed in far-flung countries around the world and most often made success for themselves. Catching one such professional during his yearly break in Malta provided me an inkling into what it is like to be a contemporary immigrant down under.
Dr Mark Fiorentino is only 33 years old but has been residing in Australia for the past five and a half years. A 2002 graduate, he underwent his housemanship in Malta and proceeded with surgical training. However today he is specialising in a completely different line – radiology. So how did Australia come into the picture?
“I had always wanted to specialise and live overseas and for some time had been seeking employment abroad. At one point I had the opportunity of choosing between employment in the UK or in Australia. From the onset a series of circumstances seemed to indicate we should proceed down under rather than anywhere else in Europe.”
Now an Australian citizen Mark (like most Ozzies, he prefers to be called by his first name only) and his wife Lisa, also a doctor, moved to Sydney in 2007 and were lucky enough to be recruited at the same hospital. He started off as a surgical trainee whilst she continued to build on her anatomical pathology training initially started in Malta. The job offers were advantageous, but the downside was the lengthy acceptance process every foreign trained doctor has to go through. “It is becoming very difficult to emigrate to Australia but being a professional and especially a doctor allowed both of us to travel there and be granted practicing rights practically immediately. Most definitely we had to achieve the Australian equivalent of certain qualifications but these we got pretty quickly. Then there were several health checks to contend with and detailed procedures to acquire permission to live in Australia permanently. Had I known about the extremely complicated procedure one needs to go through, I would have probably given up on it all.”
What helped the newly wed Fiorentinos to find their feet in a new country that much easier was the fact that their income arrived straight away and so they could proceed to purchase a house and settle down. Eventually Mark moved on to train in radiology and is presently in his third year of training. In the meantime the couple moved to Tasmania and had a son, who is now three years old.
“In about two years’ time, if we keep working hard, we will both be consultants.” They were pleasantly surprised at the high level of professionalism in the medical field. “Meritocracy is very strong and if you are good at what you do and hard working, you will succeed. Then again, at work, every procedure or decision that is taken must have a reason and a scientific background to back it up. The doctors in Australia base their relationship with their patients on direct discussion and involvement.”
Is there a comparison between Malta’s level of radiology techniques and those in Australia? He claims that whilst in Malta the field of radiology is quite advanced, in Australia, scans and MRIs are more readily available both within the public and private sectors. What about comparing the kind of diseases witnessed in Australia and those seen in Malta or in Europe? He explains how the Australian experience has exposed him to a vast range of diseases which he had never witnessed before. “Australia is a huge country with a variety of climatic conditions, and therefore a variety of disease manifestations. I travelled around Australia extensively, especially in the first few years, often going to the country and outback. It was there that I came across diseases that I’d never seen before, like rheumatic fever and trachoma in the aboriginal population, as well as venomous snake and spider bites. However apart from these, the range of common diseases present in the Australian populace is practically the same spectrum of illnesses found in the West.”
“Why did we move to Tasmania? Tasmania has a cooler climate but it is cleaner and much less hectic, particularly during winter ... a very vague comparison can be made to the Malta – Gozo equation. The Australians consider it as their holiday island because it is greener, enjoys a lot of wildlife and while it is approximately the size of Ireland, its population is just a little over the Maltese population. Which makes for great open spaces and large areas of unspoilt natural beauty.”
Whilst the Fiorentinos know they will probably return to Sydney eventually, they are happily enjoying their Tasmanian stay at the moment. The Australian experience also brought out unexpected characteristics in their life. He discovered an unknown love of cooking, something he had never done back home in Malta.
Would he move back to Malta now? Mark admits he probably wouldn’t – “Our life is here now. We enjoy a good quality of life and the great thing is we have enough vacation time between us to visit family and friends for a good chunk of time every year. Our respective families visit pretty often and distance is bridged regularly so that Malta does not feel as far away as it really is. I certainly don’t regret my decision…!”