The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is congratulating A/Professor Ruth Stewart for her appointment as the new Rural Health Commissioner.
Dr Ruth Stewart is Associate Professor of Rural Medicine, Director of Rural Clinical Training and Support at James Cook University and will be taking over the role from the inaugural commissioner Professor Paul Worley.
The announcement follows the Federal Government’s decision to extend and expand the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner. The new Commissioner will be supported by two Deputy Commissioners to specifically look after allied health, nursing and Indigenous health.
RACGP Vice President and Chair of RACGP Rural A/Professor Ayman Shenouda welcomed the announcement.
“Once again I thank Professor Worley for the tremendous work he did as Commissioner since 2017. His willingness to engage with all members of the rural and remote workforce and work on projects including the National Rural Generalist Pathway means that he leaves behind a strong legacy.
“The RACGP looks forward to working with Associate Professor Ruth Stewart to produce better health outcomes for rural and remote patients through the RACGP training program and provide the highest level of support for our colleagues working in these communities.
“When Ruth was President of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine I worked with her and Professor Worley to develop the Collingrove Agreement in 2018.
“That was a standout achievement and I believe that by working hand in glove we can make implement practical reforms driven by rural health priorities.
“Ruth has been invited to present her vision for rural health and workforce development at our next Board meeting, something that we are all looking forward to. As Australia’s largest representative body of rural general practitioners we are keen to hear what she has to say.”
A/Professor Shenouda said that the RACGP and A/Professor Stewart would hit the ground running.
“I look forward to the RACGP, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia working closely with the new commissioner to improve health outcomes in the bush.
“There is plenty of work to be done and not a moment to waste. One of our highest priorities is ensuring that the recommendations featured in the National Rural Generalist Pathway advice paper are implemented by government right away.
“It is important that patients and healthcare workers outside of our major cities have a strong voice. We need an independent advocate who can progress practical changes in line with the needs of rural and remote communities.
“The new Office will be encouraged to undertake targeted projects to improve rural health access and sustainable models of care and I think that is particularly important.
“Ruth has a PhD on a rural maternity managed clinical network and has extensive expertise in areas including rural maternity services and rural medical education. I’m sure this knowledge will be immensely beneficial to her work in this new role.
“We need to look ahead and be proactive on opportunities such as better utilising technology including telehealth services and encouraging more junior GPs to train in rural and remote areas. This is an exciting time to be a GP in a rural or remote town.”
The RACGP Vice President noted that A/Professor Stewart was assuming the new role at an auspicious time.
“I am sure that Ruth will play a key role in the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in rural and remote areas and this is something that needs to be managed very carefully.
“This has been a challenging few months and we must ensure that anyone who has concerns about their mental health reaches out for help right away. That’s not just the case for patients but all healthcare workers, we need to fight the stigma that still surrounds mental health.
“We also need to be mindful of concerns such as the pressures that would be placed on one hospital if there was an influx of COVID-19 patients in a small town.”
A/Professor Shenouda also said that it was important to focus on the many positive aspects of practicing medicine in rural and remote Australia.
“I’m not blind to the fact that there are many challenges facing healthcare outside of our major cities such as workforce shortages but I think too often we dwell on the negatives.
“I work in a rural town and love the work I do in this tight knit community. I’m sure that Associate Professor Stewart’s message to medical students would be very similar to mine – if you are considering a job as a GP in a rural or remote area you certainly will not regret it.
“You will be welcomed with open arms by the local medical community and your skill set will progress rapidly. More than that you will get to know your patients and see the benefit of your hard work and expertise every day.
“It is an incredibly rewarding career path to take, I could not recommend it highly enough.”