The diplomatic route

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja15.1214C1
Published online: 14 December 2015

There are many pathways into a medical career, but not many doctors can claim to have come via a career as an international diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Costa Boyages has gone from trade missions in India to the life of a country GP on the south coast of NSW

DR Costa Boyages is a hipster and proud.

At 34 years of age, he and his wife, Nikki, have settled into a sustainable country life, growing their own vegetables and raising chickens while they work at the local hospital, Shoalhaven District Memorial in Nowra, on the south coast of New South Wales.

They live just up the road in Berry, population 2535, and are awaiting the any-moment-now birth of their first child.

It all seems a long way from trade missions in India, not to mention the wilds of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra, but to Dr Boyages it has been a logical and satisfying journey, so far.

“When I was a kid I was equally interested in diplomacy and medicine, but I never got the marks to get into medical school”, he tells the MJA.

Instead, he went to the University of NSW to study Arts/Law and gained honours in international security, winning his way into DFAT’s graduate program.

He served a year’s “penance” in Canberra before travelling overseas as a diplomat on trade missions to the Solomon Islands, and India, as well as a longer-term posting to New Zealand, working on climate change issues.

“I loved what I was doing”, Dr Boyages says. “But I kept getting this nagging feeling that doctoring was my calling.”

So he took the leap, joining the graduate program at the University of Sydney’s School of Medicine. His last 2 years as a diplomat overlapped with his medical studies and he graduated in 2013.

“It was a bit of an intellectual gear-shift”, Dr Boyages admits. “I had to bone up on the basic sciences, and the truth is it’s the human dimensions of medicine that interest me the most.”

Unsurprisingly, it is general practice that has attracted his attention. Now in his PGY2 at Shoalhaven it is life as a rural GP that beckons.

“I’m probably over-romanticising it, but I want to practice [the kind of] medicine which makes me a part of the community, providing continuity of care — that cradle to grave stuff”, he says.

“As a diplomat, my only expertise was in relationship management and that fits in well with my generalist persuasions.”

Add to that the urge to settle down after the itinerant lifestyle of a diplomat and Dr Boyages had found his true calling.

The plan is to spend the next 2 years completing his GP training at Shoalhaven, and then the travelling life may once more call Dr Boyages and his wife.

“We hope to do a bit of volunteering abroad for a couple of years, while the kid is still small”, he says.

Adding to his already busy schedule, Dr Boyages has recently signed up as an Army Reserve medical officer to boost his qualifications in disaster relief and humanitarian aid. He’s also doing some medico-legal consulting work, and is the Illawarra/Shoalhaven representative on the Australian Medical Association’s NSW Branch Council.

Oh, and he’s teaching at the University of Wollongong.

“I’d like to do some more study in global health”, he says, “but I’ve got a bit on my plate at the moment.”

Just a few weeks ago Dr Boyages was named the winner of the MJA, MDA National Nossal Global Health Prize, for his essay Malnutrition: a global health perspective from a Timorese mountain.1

He combined his experiences volunteering at a clinic in Dili on Timor-Leste with his diplomatic skills and international experience to provide an insight into how individual medical practitioners can play a part in reducing the scourge of global malnutrition.

“I went to Timor in 2013 for my final year elective”, Dr Boyages says.

“It really had an impact on me. It was humbling, confronting and I was very keenly aware of the stark disparity between the haves and the have nots of the world.

“As an international diplomat I was always aware of that, of course, but it’s not until you get on the ground and become part of the health care system of a place that you really see it. It was very sobering.

“We’re very, very lucky to live in the country we do. I wish more people realised that.”

Dr Boyages is of Greek heritage and his father, Steven, is an endocrinologist in Sydney’s west.

“He was born in Australia, but my mother was born in Greece and came out here when she was very young”, the junior Boyages says. “But it turns out the families lived a street apart back in Greece.”

He and Nikki — an emergency department nurse at Shoalhaven — continued the tradition.

“I was working in a hospital in Hanoi in Vietnam in 2011, doing an obstetrics and gynaecology rotation, and she was also on a student placement, in the emergency department. That’s how we met.”

It seems that wherever life takes Dr Costa Boyages and his family, it’s certainly not going to be a dull existence.

1. Boyages, Dr Costa: Malnutrition: a global health perspective from a Timorese mountain; MJA 203(10): 410-411; doi:10.5694/mja15.00920
  • Cate Swannell



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