Dr. Walker will practice ‘down under’

Dr. Walker will practice 'down under' Dr. Vicki Walker by David Lias Dr. Vicki Walker, a family practice physician in Vermillion, will soon be packing up her stethoscope to set out on a one-year adventure to Australia.

Walker, her husband, Lanny, and their children Heather, 17, Alexa, 15 and Michael, 12, will reside in Apollo Bay, located near the ocean on the southern tip of the continent.

There, they will need to adjust to driving cars on the left side of the road, in a land where you must watch out for kangaroo instead of deer.

More importantly though, Dr. Walker is looking forward to some new adventures in practicing medicine, while providing some relief to Australian physicians who need a break from work.

She will be participating in the Otway Division of Family Practice.

"It's an organization of primary health care clinics in the state of Victoria," Dr. Walker said. "It is an adminstrative organization, and one of the things they try to do is hire doctors to help out their doctors so they can take vacations."

In some ways, the region is like South Dakota. It's rural in nature, and is underserved medically.

In other ways, the contrast in regions couldn't be greater. Apollo Bay is an ocean community. Over 100,000 tourists visit the region annually. The community isn't located in the arid outback. Its locale is lush and green, with a nearly tropical climate.

It's a setting Lanny Walker knows well. In 1979, he lived in Apollo Bay for a year when his father, a teacher, served in an exchange program there.

"I still have contacts there," he said. "I renewed some friendships again, and they've said the town has changed quite a bit."

What hasn't changed is one of the most popular activities � surfing. Dr. Walker's clientele may likely be made up of, in part, people who have taken

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spills off of surfboards, or suffered stings from a jellyfish � not the sort of thing a South Dakota physician typically sees.

"It's also a fairly rural area, with a lot of sheep farming and a lot of wineries," Dr. Walker said. "So in many ways, it practicing medicine there may not differ much from here. I've never lived in Australia, so I guess I'll find out."

For years, the thought of Dr. Walker practicing abroad has held great appeal with her family.

"It is something we've thought about doing for a long time," Lanny Walker said.

Dr. Walker, who has practiced medicine in Vermillion since 2000, has been granted a one year sabbatical from the Sioux Valley Vermillion Clinic.

Officials at the hospital, she said, have been very accommodating as she discussed her desire to practice overseas. Arrangements have been made for two part-time physicians to help out at the clinic during her absence.

Dr. Walker informed her patients of her plans this week.

The Walker family will leave for Australia in late December.

"It's exciting to go, but it's hard to leave a community and people you've grown pretty attached to for a year," Walker said.

She stresses that there is no permanence to the move.

"It is a sabbatical," Dr. Walker said. "We're not selling our house or anything like that. We really are coming back."

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