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12 Jun 2018

Excellent choice for Excellence in Healthcare Award

The recipient of the AMA Excellence in Healthcare Award 2018 wants to know how she can use it to build greater awareness for a very worthy cause.

Professor Elizabeth Elliott AM FAHMS was presented with her award by outgoing AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, at the AMA National Conference in Canberra in May.

Professor Elliott is a pioneer in research, clinical care, and advocacy for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and was named the winner of the AMA Excellence in Healthcare Award 2018 during the opening session of the Conference.

FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and is recognised as the leading preventable cause of prenatal brain injury, birth defects, and developmental and learning disability worldwide. There are lifelong consequences for children born from alcohol-exposed pregnancies.

The AMA Excellence in Healthcare Award is for an individual, not necessarily a doctor or AMA member, who has made a significant contribution to improving health or health care in Australia. The person may be involved in health awareness, health policy, or health delivery.

Professor Elliott was nominated for the award by the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (NOFASD), the first and largest organisation dedicated to FASD in Australia.

Over the past 20 years, FASD has evolved from being a little-known, poorly recognised, and misunderstood condition to becoming a major strategic focus for Commonwealth and State Health Departments.

“I am really delighted to be acknowledged, but I really accept the award on behalf of all the children and families I work with, and of course a lot of dedicated clinicians,” she told Australian Medicine.

“I guess for me it’s particularly nice that the group that nominated me was the national organisation.

“I read something that said this was an opportunity to highlight this cause so I’m very keen to find out how to use the AMA network to raise awareness.

“We need to raise awareness of (1) the fact that are still lots of women who drink during their pregnancy not knowing they might harm their unborn child, and (2) there are lots of doctors who are very reluctant to ask pregnant mothers about their drinking.

“They don’t want to upset the doctor-patient relationship, and yet women tell us they want to be asked. They want clear advice. In fact many of them tell us they want to be told not to drink during pregnancy. They want a clear message from doctors.”

Professor Elliott is a Distinguished Professor in Paediatrics and Health at The University of Sydney School of Medicine and a NHMRC Practitioner Fellow. She has been a passionate advocate for raising awareness of FASD for more than 20 years.

In presenting her the award, Dr Gannon said Professor Elliott played a significant leadership role in developing the Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD and online training modules, new clinical services, a national FASD website, and a national FASD register.

“She chaired the Australian Government’s National FASD Technical Network and is Co-Chair of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in FASD, and Head of the NSW FASD Assessment service,” Dr Gannon said.

“She was lead clinician in the Lililwan study on FASD prevalence in the Fitzroy Valley and has published extensively on FASD.

“She contributed to WHO, NHMRC, and RACP alcohol guidelines and has been a keynote, invited, or scientific presenter at more than 300 conferences nationally and internationally.

 “Professor Elliott is a true pioneer in the FASD field and has contributed to the development of Australia’s response to FASD, through addressing aspects of health policy, health care delivery, education, and health awareness in the work she has undertaken.

“However, FASD is only one component of Professor Elliott’s work, which includes disadvantaged children in Immigration detention, with rare disorders, and living in remote Australia.

“In 2008, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to paediatrics and child health and, in 2017, she received the Howard Williams Medal from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) – its highest award – for her contribution to paediatrics in Australia and New Zealand.

“Much of her work has been undertaken voluntarily, and has strengthened Australia’s health systems and their capacity to respond to FASD.

“Her efforts have improved health care services in FASD and changed health outcomes for children and families living with, and affected by, FASD.

“She is a worthy recipient of the AMA Excellence in Healthcare Award.”



War zone gynaecologist named AMA Woman in Medicine

AMA Woman in Medicine 2018, Professor Judith Goh AO, has described receiving her award as a great honour and privilege.

Adding that it was acknowledgement for the work of a dedicated team of health professionals, Professor Goh told Australian Medicine the award would also help build awareness for the plight of women’s health.

“We often live quite comfortably in Australia but for most women around the world, surviving their pregnancy is not taken for granted,” she said.

“So this is great recognition. But we don’t do these things to be recognised. We do it because we want to do it.”

Professor Goh is a dedicated gynaecologist who volunteers her time treating women in war zones and Third World countries.

She was named the AMA Woman in Medicine 2018 at the AMA National Conference in May.

She is a urogynaecologist who has devoted her career to women’s health. Her next stops are Bangladesh, Myanmar, and some African countries.

A world-renowned surgeon who has spent approximately three months every year for the past 23 years training doctors in Third World countries in repairing vesico-vaginal fistula – a devastating injury that can occur following prolonged, obstructive labour – Professor Goh was noticeably touched by the honour.

In presenting her the award, outgoing AMA President Dr Michael Gannon noted that Professor Goh’s nominators – colleagues from the Australian Federation of Medical Women and the Queensland Medical Women’s Society – have described her career as both humbling and inspirational.

“Since 1995, Professor Goh has donated her time and expertise, working abroad several times a year as a volunteer fistula surgeon in many parts of Africa and Asia, including Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia,” Dr Gannon said.

“Professor Goh runs the twin projects, Medical Training in Africa and Medical Training in Asia, via the charity, Health and Development Aid Abroad (HADA), using funds raised to help pay for women’s surgeries such as the correction of genital tract fistulae and prolapse, while training the local staff in these areas.

“To carry out her work within a dedicated team of professionals, Professor Goh often has to brave political unrest, and perform surgery in challenging environments, as well as deal with the emotional and social injuries to her patients due to war, rape, domestic violence, poverty, shame, and grief.

“Her work has changed lives for the better for hundreds of affected women, correcting their often long-standing and preventable obstetric trauma, including vesico-vaginal and recto-vaginal fistulae, with the minimum of overhead costs to maximise the reach of her services.

“Professor Goh uses her time abroad to upskill local practitioners in this area of medicine, and to raise awareness of the underlying causes of chronic complications of birth trauma, including poverty, lack of education, lack of awareness, and the subordination of women in some cultures.

“In 2012, she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) ‘for distinguished service to gynaecological medicine, particularly in the area of fistula surgery, and to the promotion of the rights of women and children in developing countries’.

“Her humble dedication within this field of women’s medicine, and her brave and generous service to women all over the world, is inspirational, and very worthy of recognition as a recipient of the AMA Woman in Medicine Award.”

Professor Goh said many women felt ashamed after delivering stillborn babies.

“In some places it is seen as a failure. There is even violence against them in some communities. We are building a community where lot of women can come together and feel supported,” she said.

“In our country we no longer really say ‘mother and child are well’ after a baby is born. It’s taken for granted, so the first question is how much did the baby weigh.

“But there are so many places in the world where this cannot be taken for granted.”

The AMA Woman in Medicine Award is presented to a woman who has made a major contribution to the medical profession by showing ongoing commitment to quality care, or through her contribution to medical research, public health projects, or improving the availability and accessibility of medical education and medical training for women.




APY Lands medical student awarded scholarship

A medical student who makes patient education films in Pitjantjara language, and who plans to provide health care to the people of Central Australia, is the recipient of the 2018 AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship.

Pirpantji Rive-Nelson, from Alice Springs, is a final-year medical student at the University of Queensland. He is attending the Rural Medical School in Toowoomba and he plans to return to Central Australia to work as a clinician.

Outgoing AMA President Dr Michael Gannon presented Mr Rive-Nelson with the scholarship at the AMA National Conference in Canberra in May.

The AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship was established in 1994 with a contribution from the Commonwealth Government. The AMA is seeking further donations and sponsorships from individuals and corporations to continue this important contribution to Indigenous health.

Mr Rive-Nelson told Australian Medicine he felt honoured to receive the scholarship.

“It’s great. It serves two purposes for me,” he said.

“It is a bit of a pat on the back for my efforts, in terms of medicine being quite a gruelling degree and you’re getting constant feedback and always told to improve in many areas.

“So it’s kind of nice to get a pat on the back and know that I’m on the right track. So that’s been great.

“And also to be given the opportunity to come down here to meet some of the bigger players in the medical community. That’s a bit of a treat.

“I think people where I am from will definitely notice it, but I don’t think people will understand the gravity of it and the fact that the AMA is the peak governing body for medicine in Australia. But people will recognise it as an achievement and will be very pleased to see it.

“At the end of the day it definitely bolsters my confidence in medicine in terms of keeping me on track.”

Upon receiving the award, Mr Rive-Nelson said his aspirations included a fulfilling and challenging career practising medicine in Alice Springs Hospital, inspiring youth of Central Australia to pursue health careers, and to take on leadership and advocacy roles within Central Australia and national healthcare organisations.

“Many Indigenous Australians of Central Australia do not speak English as a primary language, and seeking health care from the Alice Springs Hospital is a daunting experience,” Mr Rive-Nelson said.

“Therefore, I hope to actively assist Pitjantjatjara-speaking patients, and my colleagues, by being a clinician who is able to navigate both languages and cultures competently.”

Mr Rive-Nelson is also making short patient health education material in Pitjantjara language, including a YouTube video on kidney disease, which won an award from the University of Queensland.

Fewer than 300 doctors working in Australia identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander – representing 0.3 per cent of the workforce – and only 286 Indigenous medical students were enrolled across the nation in 2017.

Dr Gannon said Mr Rive-Nelson was a deserving recipient of the $10,000 a year Scholarship.

“Pirpantji Rive-Nelson is a respected member of the University of Queensland medical school, and of the tri-State region comprising the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, and the Central Lands Council lands,” Dr Gannon said.

“He grew up in communities including Irrunytju, Pipalyatjara, and Kalka, and has been exposed to a traditional life that most young Indigenous people can only dream of.

“He is a Wati – a fully-initiated man – and many of his family are Ngangkari – traditional bush doctors. Pirpantji will be the first initiated Pitjantjatjara Wati to become a doctor in the Western medical model, and he will be able to collaborate with Ngangkari to share knowledge and better outcomes for the health of the Central Australian community.

“The significant gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a national disgrace that must be tackled by all levels of Government, the private and corporate sectors, and all segments of our community.

“Indigenous people are more likely to make and keep medical appointments when they are confident that they will be treated by someone who understands their culture, their language, and their unique circumstances. Mr Rive-Nelson is that person.”



Army captain named Doctor in Training for 2018

An Army captain with a passion for the health of the people of the South Pacific and for the welfare of her junior colleagues has been named the AMA Doctor in Training of the Year 2018.

Dr Mikaela Seymour (pictured above), a general surgical principal house officer at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, graduated from Griffith University in 2015 with a Masters of Medicine.

Outgoing AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said Dr Seymour had built up an impressive record of community service and advocacy at such an early stage of her career.

“Dr Seymour somehow manages to combine her hospital work with her role as an associate lecturer at the University of Queensland, her service with the Australian Army as a Captain in the 2nd Health Support Company at Gallipoli Barracks, and volunteer work in remote Papua New Guinea,” Dr Gannon said.

“Alongside all this, she is currently undertaking her Masters of Surgical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

“Dr Seymour is also a member of the AMA Queensland Council of Doctors in Training  (AMAQCDT), chairs the Junior Medical Officers Forum of Queensland, is a previous deputy chair of the Australasian Junior Medical Officers Committee, sits on the Medical Workforce Advisory Committee to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer, and is on the Hospital Accreditation Committee for Queensland Prevocational Medical Education.

“Her busy schedule started early - not only was she the president and treasurer of the Griffith University Medical Society, she was also the secretary of the Queensland Medical Students Council, and a student representative on AMAQ Council.

“At the same time, she completed the Longlook Rural Education Program, and was an Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) Rural Placement Scholar.

“It’s no wonder that, upon graduation, Dr Seymour was awarded the Dean’s Prize for Contribution to the Community.

“In her final year at Griffith University, she was selected for the Queensland Rural Medical Education Placement to Western Province, the largest and most remote province in Papua New Guinea.

“The experience impressed upon her the need for timely surgical access as a fundamental universal health care right, regardless of location.

“She has returned to Papua New Guinea five times to volunteer as a doctor in training, studying alongside PNG specialists and volunteering on the YWAM medical ship, delivering primary health care to some of the most remote villages of PNG.

“Dr Seymour also supervises University of Papua New Guinea medical students during their rural placements.

“While volunteering at Kiunga District Hospital, Dr Seymour was shocked by the impact that critically low anti-malarial supplies were having on patient treatment.

“In 2017, she coordinated a malaria prescription service and record database of anti-malarial use. This simple intervention has been proved over the past year to have a real clinical impact on patient outcomes, and is now supported financially by Rotarians Against Malaria.

“In December 2017, Dr Seymour was selected by the Lowy Institute, with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to attend the Australia-Papua New Guinea Young Leaders Dialogue in Port Moresby to lead the discussion on health issues, specifically the shared health risks and evolving non-communicable disease burden facing both countries.

“In addition to her humanitarian work, Dr Seymour is a passionate advocate for junior doctor quality supervision and training, and for the wellbeing of doctors in training.

“She helped coordinate the AMAQCDT 2017 Resident Hospital Health Check, which surveyed 465 doctors in training in Queensland, and has been used as a tool for prevocational doctor advocacy, particularly regarding bullying and harassment.

“In the words of the 12 junior doctors who signed their names to Dr Seymour’s nomination for this award, the AMA is at its best when it represents the youngest of its profession and the most vulnerable patients in Australia.

“Dr Seymour is the purest example of a young leader within our ranks who advocates for the welfare and training of her junior colleagues, and provides care to those less fortunate.

“She conducts herself with the greatest humility and represents an individual who deserves much greater endorsement for the work she quietly undertakes.”

Dr Seymour was presented with her award by Dr John Zorbas, the outgoing chair of the Federal AMA Council of Doctors in Training, at the Leadership Development Dinner at the AMA National Conference in Canberra.



Published: 12 Jun 2018