RACGP: GP leaders wanted

Matt Woodley

1/10/2021 2:43:47 PM

The Future Leaders program allows GPs from across Australia to learn leadership skills and develop techniques to help advocate for change.

Group discussion among doctors.
While GPs are often seen as leaders in their community, they rarely receive formal leadership training.

According to RACGP President Dr Karen Price, general practice’s next generation of leaders is needed more than ever.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the need for support for the next generation of GP leaders,’ she said.
‘Not only are we battling this public health crisis, but we are also dealing with increasing health misinformation, which is undermining our ability to get on top of the virus and protect our community through vaccination.’
But while GPs are often seen as leaders in their community, they rarely receive formal leadership training.
The RACGP’s Future Leaders program aims to address that gap by bringing together 24 GPs from across Australia to learn leadership skills and techniques that will help achieve change for good – including advocacy, the ability to influence and strategic thinking.
‘Our Future Leaders program has proven extraordinarily successful in equipping GPs who want to take that step to lead and make a real difference in their own community and beyond,’ Dr Price said.
‘If we have more GP leaders speaking out and advocating in our community, it can help raise awareness of health issues, improve health literacy, and combat dangerous misinformation.’
Now in its third year, the program will help each participant undertake a project of their choice with the support of a mentor. Previous participants have gone on to become public speakers and advocates on a variety of health issues, from children’s mental health to planetary health.
One such participant, Dr Andrew Leech, has a growing profile as a leader and public speaker in children’s mental health. The Perth-based GP has launched his own podcast and blog, and regularly appears on other podcasts and webinars, and is a regular contributor to various magazines.
‘I was drawn to children’s mental health after having more and more parents come to me worried about their kids, and seeing children with anxiety,’ he said.
‘Mental health is the most common presentation GPs see, and the pandemic, lockdowns and home-schooling have only made matters worse.’
Dr Leech believes it is important for GPs to make their voice heard.
‘GPs are a trusted source of reliable information. We tend to know a bit about everything when it comes to health, and this is why we are considered leaders, not only with our patients but across the whole community,’ he said.
‘However, we tend to shy away from speaking to the media and the public.
‘I recently did a talk on immunisation, which really highlighted why it’s important for GPs to take on more public leadership roles – we need to speak up, so we don’t get drowned out by groups spreading misinformation.’
Another former participant, Queensland GP Dr Tammra Warby, joined the Future Leaders program to gain the skills to play a leadership role in a specific area of health.
‘I got into planetary health after seeing people with health issues in my area stemming from environmental issues, such as trees being cut down, construction dust and pollution,’ she said.
‘When I started researching, I discovered how the environment impacts our health. It was much bigger than anything I could have imagined and I felt I had to do something about it.’
After graduating from the program, Dr Warby led the development of a declaration calling for family doctors of the world to act on planetary health, which was adopted by the World Organisation of Family Doctors and sent to general practice colleges in more than 130 countries.
It was also published by a number of prominent medical journals, including the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.
Dr Warby has since travelled internationally to speak on her leadership journey in planetary health, including at a women’s leadership conference at Harvard Medical School.
‘I first went to the conference as a participant; I was passionate about planetary health but wasn’t sure how I could help,’ she said. ‘I was advised to do a leadership skills course, which led me to the Future Leaders program.
‘Future Leaders gave me the ability to seek out leadership opportunities. It opened doors I couldn’t have imagined for myself; I never would have thought I’d be invited back to Harvard to speak at the conference.
‘I highly recommend this program. For any GP interested in leadership, it’s a great place to start.’
Applicants 2022 RACGP Future Leaders program must be Fellows of the college with some previous leadership experience who can commit to around four hours per week.
More information is available on the RACGP website.
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