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17 Aug 2018

BY DR SANDRA  HIROWATARI, CHAIR, AMA  COUNCIL OF RURAL DOCTORS

Doctors understandably ask, “What is the AMA doing for me?” They look to find value in a service they purchase for a monthly fee of $123. Non-members do not join if they do not see worth in the money they would spend.

In my view, the question is ass backwards. Rather, every member or non-member ought to ask, “What can I do for the AMA?”

Because us paying AMA members are not spending a monthly fee to gain a service. No. We are joining a professional network, the most recognisable medical brand in Australia.  The fee gives us the privileges and the duties to be an AMA member.

Rural doctors are sadly not seeing this. AMA membership is lower in rural areas.

Yet, it is we, the rural cohort, that needs the AMA the most. We are challenged with isolation, being a lone wolf in a community, not having professional networks to support us in times of need. And, we are a sponge of needs.  We want a medical community, we need advocacy in issues not understood by the urban administrators, and we seek Continuing Medical Education to feel good about our clinical acumen.  We need a voice to be heard, and someone who can see our vision.

Where are those needs being met?  The AMA is not the only professional networking organisation.  Rural Doctors Association of Australia, RACGP - Rural, ACRRM are other choices.  The organisations need not have “Rural” in their name, but they ought to be medical.

Sometimes the needs are unaddressed.  Our mental health, our rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicides is higher than our city medical cohort.  Eventually, many of you leave the rural regions because it is unsustainable for you.

So, what are some of the duties that can engage AMA rural members, so you can receive while you are gaining?

Well, you can come to the party. You can sign up, join a teleconference, a webinar, send in an email opinion on some rural issue.  Yes, it is work.  No kidding, you read papers as thick as telephone books, you sweat when you are asked questions that have NO ANSWER, your heart aches when you give examples of the rural health gap.

Have you received support from your State AMA office? Yes? Then, give it back. Volunteer to be a support for another. No? Then, get involved in AMA State functions. Tell them you needed support and it was missing. Until you are part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Sometimes, you go to a conference in some big city, like Darwin. To get there you travel a dirt unsealed road or catch a prop plane that comes to your community a few times a week. The financial sacrifice you make is more than just the cost of the conference. You lose at least a day of income getting to the venue and another day of lost income as you get yourself back. There, at the Rural Conference, you will talk to others with red dust on their four-wheel drive. You meet your family.

How do I know you are not coming to the party? At the most recent election for the position I sit in, the Chair of the Council of Rural Doctors, all of you who identify as rural, received a ballot. Can you guess how many of you came to the party to just cast a vote? Fewer than 10 per cent. The election was a reflection of engagement. Those of you who did not vote, please feel guilty RIGHT NOW.

To quote JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

My gratitude to Dr Chris Clohesy, NT representative to the AMA Council of Rural Doctors, for the seed of the idea of this article, especially the JFK quote


Published: 17 Aug 2018