21 September 2018

Challenges abound as McPhee takes ACRRM reins

General Practice Rural

The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine has elected Queensland GP Dr Ewen McPhee as its next president.

“I am excited about this fantastic opportunity to lead the college at this important time,” Dr McPhee told The Medical Republic.

“Basically what I want to do is to pull the strings together on a lot of things that I think are critically important for rural clinicians at state and federal levels.”

The influential Queensland GP obstetrician is immediate past president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia and has served on the national Primary Care Taskforce, the National Rural Generalist Taskforce and Medical Benefits Schedule Review committees.

He is also a champion of telehealth in rural medicine, a senior academic clinician at the University of Queensland’s Rural Clinical School, and a senior fellow of Generalist Medical Training at James Cook University.

Dr McPhee will take up the leadership next month, replacing Dr Ruth Stewart, as ACRRM and the RACGP are on the brink of resuming responsibility for GP vocational training, with ACRRM to be in charge of 10% of the training cohort.

The handover also comes as Australia’s first National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Paul Worley, is hard at work to meet a 2019 deadline to plan training pathways for multi-skilled rural generalist doctors nationally.

“I am really keen to see the national rural generalist pathway become reality and to see the college of rural and remote medicine lead the training of the next generation of rural generalist doctors,” Dr McPhee said.

The GP, who practices in Emerald, central Queensland, acknowledged that his home state had led the way in embracing rural generalism as a distinct specialty.

“But the case for rural generalism has been made across Australia,” he said. “I think Paul Worley’s role will be critical in giving local context to an ideal. It won’t be a case of one-size-fits-all.”

ACRRM’s current President, Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, said a major challenge for the rural-focused college would be to help ensure the new rural generalist training regimes delivered the right kind of doctors.

“They have to be the doctors that rural communities need – not what is easy or convenient for doctors,” she said.

As ACRRM’s 11th president, Dr McPhee indicated he would be on guard against pressures to close rural hospitals.

“ACRRM stands as a champion for clinicians practising at the top of their scope of practice in rural areas,” he said.

“Really, we need to take the challenge to people who suggest that excellent quality care can’t be delivered to rural people close to home.”

Beyond GP training, Dr McPhee said he hoped to involve all doctors – specialists and generalists – in ways to sustain quality healthcare in rural and remote contexts through better system design at state and federal levels.

ACRRM also needed to be part of the conversation about improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and further its role in leading telehealth and telemedicine across Australia, he said.

Dr McPhee defeated South Australian rural generalist GP Dr Michael Beckoff in ACRRM’s very first contested presidential election.