Pinnacle GPs recognised at college conference

Pinnacle GPs John Burton and Michael Oehley were invited to share their general practice experience at The Royal New Zealand College of GPs conference recently, receiving medals as recognition of their achievements.

Eric Elder Medal

John Burton from Kawhia Medical Centre was presented the Eric Elder Medal, which is presented to keynote speakers at the annual RNZCGP conference.

The medal is named in honour of Eric Elder, a GP who lived and worked in Tuatapere for 60 years, and who pioneered general practice training, including the use of peer review and the creation of rural training programmes.

"I met Eric just after he had retired, when I was locuming in Riverton, next door to Tuatapere.  The Riverton and Tuatapere regions were combined for after hours' calls, and I frequently met patients who had some great tales about Eric", says John.  

"A common story that emerged were times when Eric was called to attend sick children.  He was working so hard that the child's parents would have sometimes fallen asleep by the time he arrived. 

"The parents would wake up in the morning and notice the child had been assessed, with a little note telling the parents what to do and a bottle of medicine. Even the nappy would have been changed," laughs John.

"That was a different era. I don't see myself as being in the mold of Eric Elder at all. But I feel very privileged to have received the award."

John was involved with the college some 18 years ago, looking at the difficulties in rural general practice and making recommendations.  He spoke about how the area has evolved since then.

"The title of the talk was 'It's all about relationships, a Raranga to Inspire Students'.  Raranga is the Maori art of weaving.  Our Maori health worker Karen explained this and we used it as an illustration to show how we can provide strands from what we have been given as we learn to weave with our patients. 

There are so many damaged areas in the fabric of people's lives.  We wanted to emphasise the idea that as medical workers, we are sometimes the strand on top offering medical advice and expertise, but that it is also important that we go underneath and that the patients' strands comes on top, because they have to be the experts on their own health."

"I talked about what we're doing with medical students in Kawhia to inspire them into rural practices.  The feedback we received afterward the presentation was that many enjoyed the celebration of what the whole team does.  We've had so many positive comments, people told us they were moved and it reminded them of why they went into general practice in the first place."

It's not the first recognition John has received from the college in his many years as a GP; he received a Distinguished Service Medal in 2007. 

Read a full copy of John's talk at the college conference, including feedback from medical students about their experience at the Kawhia practice.

Photo: GP John Burton (standing) says having a strong practice team is important in providing health care to a small community.

Peter Anyon Memorial Medal

Michael Oheley from Five Cross Roads Medical Centre received the Peter Anyon Memorial Medal for his presentation on his journey so far in General practice and the direction in which it is headed.

The award honours the work of Dr Peter Anyon, who made a valuable and important contribution to general practice vocational education by setting up a registrar training scheme in Lower Hutt in 1974 and becoming the first regional director. Peter was an active and passionate advocate for quality general practice education.

"Whoever wins the medal is asked to give an address. I was surprised when asked, it was a nice pat on the back," says Michael.

Michael was the top scholar in the 2001 NZ Bursary Examinations and was most distinguished graduate from the University of Auckland medical school when he graduated in 2008.

"I became involved with the college's Waikato faculty when I was representative for the Waikato registrars last year. I come from a background in emergency medicine in Australia and have done a lot of travelling, and I've even had three children's books published."

Michael says primary care needs to stand out from the hospital in terms of attracting young doctors.

"We need to make general practice an environment that registrars and medical students enjoy.

"There's a reputation in medicine that general practice is an easy option compared to being a specialist.  I think it's the opposite.  It's very hard. You're at the coal face, dealing with a wide range of problems.  You're meant to be the expert in everything, and demands from patients are rising all the time. 

"We have to remain relevant to the patient's health." 

Michael also commended his senior colleague Dr Mike Watson, who was his GP when he grew up and inspired him to become one. 

"He is the unsung hero who doesn't get medals.  He is dedicated to his patients.  I feel there's thousands of GPs working out there without any recognition who are more deserving than I."

Photo: Michael Oehley (left) was inspired to become a GP by his childhood GP and now colleague Mike Watson (right).

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