City surgeon finds space and sanity in Warrnambool

FOR six years, Warrnambool was a seaside escape for plastic and reconstructive surgeon Robert Toma and his GP wife Emma. 

But now it’s home, with the couple making the sea change permanent 12 months ago, prior to the arrival of their son Hugo. 

“Warrnambool was always a bit of a place we could come to regain our sanity,” he said. 

Mr Toma said the move to Warrnambool had always been part of the couple’s long-term plan for a number of reasons. 

“It was a bit of a mix-ture between a great work opportunity for me and for lifestyle reasons,” he said. 

“The fact plastic surgery was not represented in the region, apart from a visiting surgeon once a month, but there wasn’t one who live permanently in the area from Geelong to Adelaide. So that was obviously a big work opportunity for me.” 

Mr Toma opened his own practice, Warrnambool Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, last year at St John of God Hospital and said it was pleasing to be able to provide a service people would otherwise have to travel for. “A lot of people were travelling two to three hours to have access to plastic surgery,” he said. 

“Most of the major stuff I do, like major hand trauma and skin cancers, people were having to travel. It’s a plus for both public and private patients to be able to come to someone here and be operated on here.”

He said St John of God had been very proactive in securing the services of new doctors and the region was well catered for quality healthcare. 

“They are doing a great job and are willing to invest in doctors coming down. The hospital bought me a microscope worth $150,000 and other specialised equipment basically out of good will.” 

He said aside from work opportunities, there were greater lifestyle benefits. 

“We live in Henna Street, so I have a five-minute commute to work, and on most mornings five minutes is pushing it. It’s more like two minutes. 

“In Melbourne I was driving an hour to work in one hospital in the morning, then going to another at lunch time, then it was about a two-hour drive home. Now I might still be at work till 10pm, but I’m not driving as far. 

“It’s not so much of a work/lifestyle balance for me, it seems to be all work, but I think it’s better for us as a whole. 

“From a family point of view, yes, living in North Fitzroy was great, you had the cafes and the trendy lifestyle. But there isn’t a lot of space.”

Mr Toma, who grew up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, said one of the first things he noticed was how friendly country people are. 

“The patients are nice, and when you walk down the street people say hello, you can’t underestimate that,” he said. 

“I go back to Melbourne, and people are heads down not wanting to know anyone. 

“People are nice and welcoming here, they are happy to have you here as part of the community. 

“We have set our roots down here and when Hugo is old enough he will go to school down here.”

n Read more stories about why people love living in the south-west by picking up a copy of The Standard’s Live Work Invest magazine from local council offices.

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