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Feature

‘We’re just different – and it works really well’


Jolyon Attwooll


16/02/2024 3:42:52 PM

The director of Banksia Medical Centre, Dr Bernard Shiu talks about the approach that led to the clinic becoming the RACGP’s general practice of the year.

Dr Bernard Shiu
Dr Bernard Shiu is a GP and practice owner of the award-winning Banksia Medical Centre in Victoria. (Image: Jolyon Attwooll)

Dr Bernard Shiu is not, you suspect, a man who likes to stay still for very long.
 
When he greets newsGP at the latest of his two practices, a freshly refurbished clinic in Torquay on Victoria’s surf coast which opened in early 2023, he is brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for the clinical work on site and his recent travels.
 
Our meeting takes place a short while after the WONCA World Conference in Sydney, which he attended, and the contacts and conversations he had with family doctors from afar are still fresh.
 
He talks of conversations about small group care he had with South African physicians, and discussions on smoking cessation approaches with doctors in Singapore – always on the look-out for new ideas that could work in his own clinics.
 
It is this kind of drive that no doubt played a part in Banksia Medical Centre – located in the Geelong suburb of Newcomb as well as in Torquay – winning the latest RACGP General Practice of the Year award.
 
On arrival, the emphasis on sustainability is immediately clear through the glint of the clinic’s solar panels, and the EV charger in the car park. ‘We are approaching carbon zero,’ Dr Shiu told newsGP.
 
But it is a range of other factors, both clinical and cultural, that he credits most for its success.
 
On the treatment front, the long COVID clinic – one of the first of its kind in Australia – that has run out of the practices has perhaps gained the most attention. First set up in 2022, it has gained plaudits for its innovative approach both with hundreds of patients who have used it, as well as health officials.
 
Then there is the transgender care, often carried out in collaboration with the Equinox and Monash Gender Health Clinics to allow for respectful and dignified care for patients in regional and rural settings.
 
Home visits too – precipitously declining in many places around Australia – are also part of the Banksia offering, which are carried out by Dr Natasha Nogueira, who trained in Brazil then became a Fellow after moving to Australia.
 
She also works on-site at the Torquay clinic with Dr Shiu, while seven other GPs, and a range of other health professionals, including a geriatrician, dietitian, podiatrist and a psychologist, are also available.
 
Beyond the monthly clinical catch-up with colleagues, Dr Nogueira has become a big advocate of a Signal messaging group used by the GPs working across the two locations.
 
As well as practical and logistical help, such as getting advice on which other medical specialists might be best for a referral, the group is also a great clinical tool, she says.
 
‘We talk literally every day and we ask for help, “I’ve been trying to do this and this with a patient, I’m stuck, what do I do?”’ she told newsGP.  
 
‘Truly that’s invaluable, I’ve learned so much from it.
 
‘We all get together and help each other.’
 
She also advised on furbishing an area in the Torquay clinic that is very distinct to the standard GP consulting room – soft, welcoming colours, local art pieces, welcoming couches and cushions, all designed to give the right environment for on-site psychologists at work.
 
That willingness to approach things from a slightly different angle is partly what inspired Dr Nogueira to join this genuinely international team.

banksia-articleimage.jpg
Dr Natasha Nogueira is an advocate of collaboration among colleagues. (Image: Jolyon Attwooll)
 
Dr Shiu grew up in Hong Kong, while other clinicians’ backgrounds range from Taiwan to Canada, India, New Zealand and Australia, each bringing different clinical strengths and interests.
 
For all the diversity, Dr Nogueira believes there is a common thread in all her colleagues’ openness to advice and suggestions.
 
She says she actively wants to know if there is something she can do better, if she has made a mistake, and whether there are any strategies that could help her improve in the future.
 
‘It is definitely a different mindset,’ she said.
 
‘I’ve always had that, and I found it refreshing to find a team where I felt that I can actually fit in because we all have similar mindsets.’
 
Dr Shiu defines it as follows.
 
‘The most valuable thing is the culture,’ he said.
 
‘We just feel like everyone’s equal. Everyone has a say, and I’m very, very open to everyone giving me any ideas, any crazy ideas that they have.
 
‘The team that we have built together, the culture that we’ve built together, we all really respect each other’s opinion. We’ve worked really well together, we have fun together.
 
‘We don’t always agree but we always respect, and that is I think the most valuable thing.’
 
Dr Shiu also attributes part of his success to having a clear sense of the value of general practice.
 
‘It takes a certain personality to be a good GP,’ he said. ‘If you want to be a good GP, you really have to have that passion, you’re almost born into it.
 
‘You want to find out more about a person, not just a person, but also their family, the psychosocial model.
 
‘We need to respect our profession, that we are specialists, and what we do other people can’t do, the value we are giving to the public.’
 
So of all the steps that featured in the clinic’s nomination for the RACGP award, what is he most proud of?
 
‘I think the long COVID clinic made the most impact,’ he said. ‘At the highest level now with the Department [of Health], they are willing to listen to us.
 
‘At the same time, we made a difference to more than 300 patients, and we discharged 90% of them.
 
‘They have gone back to work, to their family and their symptoms have improved.
 
‘In that sense, the long COVID clinic would be the one that has made the most impact, and the one that I’m most proud of.’
 
As for what comes next, he is inevitably not short of ideas, with the creation of a one-stop shop for ADHD among the current possibilities.
 
‘We don’t really have anything we won’t do,’ he said.
 
‘We do skin, women’s health, men’s health, mental health, we have Aboriginal health, we have transgender health.
 
‘Pretty much anything that’s general practice, we are keen, and we will try to find a way to do better.’
 
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Dr Bernard Shiu Geelong General Practice of the Year RACGP Torquay


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