‘We are the college’: RACGP calls on members to be a voice for change

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

24/07/2020 3:39:45 PM

With nominations for RACGP elections now open, two Faculty Council members talk about the value of representing their profession.

Dr Columbine Mullins and A/Prof Chris Hogan
Dr Columbine Mullins and Associate Professor Chris Hogan say being members of RACGP Councils has allowed them to be part of positive change for general practice.

‘It is always better to be an agent of change than the victim of progress.’
That is Associate Professor Chris Hogan’s message to members of the RACGP, and the sentiment that has driven his advocacy efforts since he first joined the Faculty Council in Victoria in 1992.
Formerly chairman and provost, as a member he has had the opportunity to make significant contributions across state government departments and a range of health organisations such as the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, the National Asthma Council Australia, and WorkCare.
‘There’s been some amazing work,’ he told newsGP.
‘What we’ve been able to do is to give a voice of general practice where it is desperately needed.
‘By being a GP, our involvement is more than just direct involvement with our patients. To be the patient’s advocate, we have to get involved in medical politics. We have to engage with other organisations, other colleges, other disciplines, which is what we’ve done.’
Similarly, when Dr Columbine Mullins decided to put her hand up to become a member of the Faculty Council in Tasmania, as the regional representative for Franklin, she was motivated by the opportunity to help make general practice as sustainable and effective as possible.
Little did she know, however, how integral that role would become when the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia’s shores just months later.   
‘It’s been a huge year for healthcare and primary health,’ Dr Mullins told newsGP.
‘[The council’s] really been good at trying to support general practices and general practitioners, especially when the northwest coast went into lockdown.
‘We really tried to lobby for better access to PPE [personal protective equipment] and grants for practices to help navigate COVID.
‘There’s also been lots of talk about how to support junior doctors and registrars who are struggling with the teaching requirements, and how to actually manage learning when you’re not seeing patients face-to-face.
‘So there’s been a huge number of issues that we had a talk about and try to develop some strategies around.’
As a result of their efforts, the Tasmanian Government committed to give practices a one-off grant of up to $10,000 to support the continued delivery of primary health services during the pandemic.
Dr Mullins is also a practice owner and supervisor of GP registrars. With the face of general practice having changed drastically in a matter of months, and still evolving, she says her fellow Council members have become an invaluable source of knowledge, and support on a personal level.
‘General practice can be quite isolated,’ she said.
‘It’s really been wonderful to have that better connection with people and to hear just informally how other people are managing and what strategies they’ve put in place. It’s sort of really validating and reassuring.
‘One of the big things that has come up now is that telehealth item numbers have to be linked to a GP who’s seen the patient before, and that’s something that we’ve discussed in the meetings.
‘So there [are] things like that where it’s good to be part of the discussion. Being able to hopefully make positive changes, or have input in decisions, is particularly nice when you’re in a crisis and it feels like everything is out of control.’
Associate Professor Hogan, who is also Deputy Chair of the RACGP History Committee, says the current climate is the ideal time for GPs to join their state Faculty Council and have an impact. 
‘When everything is stable, it’s almost impossible to get anything done. But when you’ve got the blowtorch to the belly, as we have at the moment, we’ve got the opportunity of actually doing something,’ he said.
‘One of the things that I must say rattles my cage is that there are a lot of people who say “the college should do this, the college should that”. Well we are the college; it’s us. There’s a whole way of becoming involved and having a voice and actually changing things.
‘At the moment government is listening to us, government is cooperating with us. But we also need to speak up.’
Dr Mullins agrees, and sees her membership as a way of contributing to the bigger picture.
‘General practice is often working on the individual patient and individual problems, but this is a bit broader and it’s nice to have that overview about how can we improve the healthcare system in our community or state or nationwide,’ she said.
‘There are always lots of things we can complain about, but it’s nice to actually actively try to change things positively.’
Nominations for elected positions on all RACGP Faculty Councils are now open and will close at 12 noon, Thursday 30 July 2020. More information on the nomination process is available on the RACGP website.
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Dr Karyn Matterson   25/07/2020 8:41:37 AM

Thanks for your article. Totally concur. All members must vote. Now more important than ever.