How did you come to be a GP in Taree?
I was a procedural GP in Singleton in the 1990’s. When we were having our first child, 23 years ago, we decided to relocate. We bought a solo practice just outside Taree because it wasn’t too far away from family and there was also a very strong arts community in the town, which was very important for my wife, who is a singer.
What what’s your motivation in being a GP supervisor?
I’ve been a supervisor for a substantial amount of time, back in Singleton I was a supervisor. I think about all the people that have helped me, have encouraged, put up with me, or have been very candid about my areas of weakness.
Our profession has that wonderful tradition of helping each other with our strengths and weaknesses, in early or late career. GPs have really got to be thinking all the time about the people coming after us, the next generation and succession, otherwise we’ll be all up the creek.
What do you enjoy most about being a GP supervisor?
In some ways you get a ritual flogging every time you don’t understand the latest technology or social media. My kids have now left home so I’m not getting the rolling of the eyes at home, but I still get it from the registrars, which is great.
Also, I’m learning from the registrars. You’re often having in-depth discussions about cases, and they might well have had all types of interesting previous skills. I had one registrar who had been a vascular surgeon in China; he taught me some things about skin surgery involving blood vessels.
One of the things that I think is really exciting about GP Synergy is the way it’s taken on the ReCEnT project. I think it is really exciting to be able to evaluate education for individual registrars and as a professional group. I think we need to acknowledge those people at GP Synergy, such as Tony Saltis and Parker Magin, who are mentoring GP supervisors to attempt research or undertake up-skilling.
How did you develop your speciality in addiction medicine?
I’ve always been interested in politics and I ran for the Australian Democrats in the State election of 1994/95. State politics at that time was a crime auction where people said, ‘I’m tougher on crime than the other lot’. I talked about providing drug treatment services, methadone, and so on. At that time, it got me headlines and airtime. People assumed I knew all about it because I was a doctor; but I didn’t. Frankly, I had all the same stigmatised attitudes and fears that everyone has, because when you think about it, drugs are essentially defined by stigma, and addiction is intrinsically a pejorative phrase.
A year or two later we ended up in the Manning Valley and I was approached to train in office-based methadone provision as there was no one else in Taree offering such care. I thought ‘no way, we’ll go broke’, but then I thought I better put my money where my mouth is, so we took it on and it took off. I eventually did some university work and became grandfathered into the new chapter of addiction medicine in the Royal Australian College of Physicians.
I’ve been running clinics at the Manning Hospital in Taree for 19 years and am now part-time staff specialist as well as a GP supervisor. Many GP registrars have done addiction clinics with me at the hospital. They’re all a bit apprehensive about it initially but have found it really useful. You develop skills in dealing with difficult patients and you feel comfortable discussing how to help people who are often otherwise impossible to help. No registrar has said they wished they hadn’t done it, they’ve all spoken very highly about developing skills in drug and alcohol, because in general practice such a high number of our complicated patients have problems with drugs and alcohol or pharmaceuticals.
Why would you recommend GP training in Taree?
I think a lot of people in Sydney are worried there’s no such thing as civilization north of the Hawkesbury River, but there’s all sorts of wonderful things people can do outside Sydney. We’ve got a lovely river, lots of beaches, rainforests, there is just about every sport represented, we’ve got a great facility for performing arts and a very large annual Eisteddfod with thousands of people involved. At the ParkRun each Saturday along the riverbank I see heaps of my patients, and there is plenty of sledging.
The practice you do in Taree is different in some ways in that it’s an older community, so it’s a great place for people to learn about chronic disease management. Taree has a large Indigenous population and all Australians need to look to understanding and resolving our shared racial history. People who come to work in the Manning will be able to encounter and possibly engage with Aboriginal culture.
If you’d like to know more about GP training in Taree, visit our Taree town profile.