FOR doctor Huw Casson the challenge of opening a practice in South West France meant tackling mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy, but he is already sharing pasties with colleagues and looking forward to a new adventure.
Huw and his wife Judith, also a doctor, have recently opened the Ville Rose Medical Practice, in Toulouse, and he believes the taste for new horizons can be traced back through his own family.
"The wanderlust is strong in my family, my father's job took him all over the world, my grandmother was a keen worldwide traveller into her 70s and two of my uncles and aunts have lived expat lives," Huw said.
"We were very keen that our children should be truly bilingual as there is evidence that this has cognitive and social benefits over and above the extra language itself. As France was a country we knew and loved and was our closest neighbour it seemed the logical place to have our adventure."
Toulouse appealed to Huw and Judith when they first looked into setting up a practice in France more than three years ago thanks to its vibrant cultural life, as well as the Pyrenees and Mediterranean being a short drive away.
But being properly registered in the French medical system threw up some classic problems for anyone trying to establish themselves in the country.
"I faced the inevitable no address, means no way of registering, means no job, so no rental contract, so no address," said Huw. "But I was lucky enough to meet a chap who provided an address, and without him there is a good chance I would not have been where we are now.
"Then my qualifications needed translating, while the application form for registration with the ordre de medecins required no less than 13 separate bits of paperwork with translations on top for those in English, this was for just one of the five bodies that I required registration for in order to work, so you can see why it took six months to complete the process."
Huw is currently registered as a non conventionné doctor as he is not able to offer cover five days a week, but when Judith begins work in September, the couple aim to offer longer sessions to Anglophone patients in the region, but these would not be reimbursed by the CPAM.
They also face the difficulties of providing assistance over a large area, so are set to offer assistance by email and telephone in addition to consultations at the surgery and visits when requested.
"We face a couple of tough months as we seek to establish ourselves as we are not permitted to advertise, so we will rely on people telling friends via the grapevine, but we are confident that it will succeed because we want it to and we genuinely believe there is a need to be filled here," Huw said. "If we weren't we wouldn't have re-mortgaged the house and thrust the kids into a foreign language school."
And Huw has also taken the opportunity to work within the medical community of Toulouse to establish himself within the profession as he has undertaken shifts in the teaching hospital at Rangueil, picking up on the differences between the way the UK and France operates.
"I have been able to really get to know the Toulouse psyche from all angles working in urgences where the diversity of patients is enormous and the staff are in constant contact with one another. But equally we have found friends from parents of our children's school friends and neighbours as well," said Huw.
"One of my colleagues in particular has been a great help in getting us settled here and is one of those who has benefited from an English translation for his academic paper, as well as our heartfelt gratitude and Cornish pasties in recompense."
Ville Rose Medical Practice, Toulouse
Toulouse doctor's surgery forced to close
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Very best of luck with your venture! We look forward to following your progress. We live just south of Rodez and are in the process of organising our lives to conform with French regulations etc. It's just not as horrific as some people make it out to be! CPAM was a breeze for instance and we're not that fluent in French yet. It's all so worth it once you live the adventure!
Evelyn and Peter Gorrill
Posted by: Evelyn Gorrill | 22 August 2007 at 20:07
Thanks for the support Evelyn and Peter. At this moment we need it. The practice is in grave peril. This is all the more sad as if we had not spent the extra months at the local public hospital, supporting them at their request, we might have had enough time to generate the awareness of our practice through word of mouth - the only legitimate avenue open to us due to the regulations affecting doctors and other professions liberales in France. Unless we can get a miracle in the next 2 weeks, we shall have to return to the UK or face losing our house ( we are renting here - it is our only property). The business community here is being very helpful and we hope that the networking will pay off, otherwise South-west France will lose its only native English speaking medical practice. Time is not on our side, I fear, but who knows what the next two weeks will bring... we hope, still.
Once again thanks for the sentiments,
Huw and Jude
Posted by: Huw Casson | 15 October 2007 at 00:54
Having just moved to Toulouse from another area of France, we have been thinking of starting a small medical practice, with the aim of serving primarily the English speaking community, so we have read with great interest of your experiences. We were both UK GPs, but left 5 years ago to live near Perpignan where Peter has worked as a locum. Would you be willing to talk to us about your experience in Toulouse, before we embark on on our project?
Hope things have settled for you now.
With kind regards
Helen and Peter
Posted by: Helen Pack | 16 November 2007 at 11:15