28 July 2020

Two new candidates for RACGP president

Political RACGP

Two new candidates are vying to be the next RACGP president, with Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe and Dr Magdalena Simonis announcing their bid for the position this week.

But the elections, originally delayed because of COVID-19, are now under a pall following the death of sitting college president Dr Harry Nespolon on Sunday night from pancreatic cancer, at the age of just 57.

The current college vice president and presidential candidate, Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda, will act as interim president until a new one is named in November.

Professor Hespe, a Sydney GP and chair of the NSW and ACT RACGP, worked closely with Dr Nespolon for almost two decades.

She told The Medical Republic that while she was deeply saddened by the death of her colleague and friend, she knows Harry would have hated his passing to disrupt the college elections.

“The thing about Harry, and it’s really important to help people understand, is that he didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him, and he wanted to do a great job for GPs and to continue advocating for them right up until the end,” she said.

Professor Hespe said she had developed the strong relationships needed for effective advocacy while working for the RACGP.

“Good leadership is not about standing up and telling people what to do, good leadership is about respect, relationships, and collaboration,” she said.

“That’s the sort of leadership I am planning to bring as president.”

Professor Hespe said the COVID-19 pandemic had also fast-tracked the challenges facing GPs and practice owners.

“The most important thing that we need to achieve in the next two years is actually about making general practice a sustainable career,” she said.

“That means a sustainable income stream for all GPs, and a sustainable income for practice owners to run a practice that provides all of the services that can deliver good patient centred care.”

The other new addition to the ballot is Dr Magdalena Simonis, a Melbourne GP who has combined full-time work in clinical practice with writing RACGP guidelines, research, education and holding a variety of board positions.

Her three major policy points include putting GPs at the heart of Australia’s primary care model, making sure the RACGP is supporting its members and for the college to drive innovation and opportunity into the profession.

“I’ve already taken the GP out of the consultation room and I’ve advocated for the GP while building relationships with government and stakeholders – sometimes I’ve been the only GP at the table and not even as an RACGP representative,” she told The Medical Republic.

Dr Simonis said the college needs to be more transparent, so members feel supported by the RACGP.

“Members have told me they feel like the RACGP doesn’t keep them abreast of discussions at an advocacy level, at the time the decisions are happening,” she said.

“I’ve been asked ‘Where was the RACGP when the MBS item numbers changed for ECG?’ or ‘How is it that we find out after the event, or when its immanent that the change is happening, and that GPs will be disadvantaged?’”

Dr Simonis said that while the RACGP is involved in a lot of decisions, GP members are not told what is happening at the time.

“When the college represents GPs, we really need to be taking the voice of GPs to that discussion and unless we engage our members in a member centric way, then we aren’t seen as doing that no matter how much hard work is being done behind the scenes,” she said.

Dr Simonis is also known for her special interest in women’s health issues, and her advocacy for women in medicine.

She is the current president of the Victorian Medical Women’s Society and the chair of the RACGP’s Women in General Practice.

At the time of publication, TMR was aware of five GPs in the running.

Three of the candidates are Victorian GPs – Dr Simonis, Dr Chris Irwin and Dr Karen Price – while Professor Hespe and Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda are based in NSW.

It’s now down to the wire for GPs who want to run for the two-year leadership position, with nominations closing on July 30.

This story has been updated to include TMR’s interview with Dr Simonis. 

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