17 August 2020

North Coast GP recognised for fostering wellbeing amongst colleagues and patients

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has awarded New South Wales North Coast GP Dr Ashlea Broomfield the 2020 Eric Fisher Award.

The annual award is given to the NSW or ACT early career GP who has a strong focus on the emotional wellbeing of their patients and colleagues.

It was established in honour of the late Dr Eric Fisher who was a strong role model for his colleagues and held several key leadership positions throughout his 67 year medical career. He was passionate about the work of young GPs and believed that emotional well-being has a significant impact on a patient’s health and recovery.

Dr Broomfield, who was the recipient of the RACGP GP Registrar of the year in 2015, completed her medical studies at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and moved to Coffs Harbour to attend the UNSW Rural Clinical School (RCS). She achieved her fellowship with the RACGP in 2016.

The North Coast GP thrived at the RCS and a one-year stint in Coffs Harbour turned into a permanent move after her positive experiences working on the North Coast.

Dr Broomfield said that her time in the area has been a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

“Working on the North Coast has been an incredibly positive experience and I’m glad that instead of moving to Sydney I decided to stay and complete my hospital based training and General Practice specialty training in the same location.

“I’ve had the opportunity to train within the community I now care for as a fully qualified GP. As a GP we are intrinsically a part of the community and I look forward to working to support the needs of local patients for a long time.”

The North Coast GP said she was honoured to receive the award.

“I am truly humbled to win this award because there are so many GPs out there going that extra mile to care for their patients and support their colleagues’ wellbeing.

“I am inspired by the many doctors and registrars who serve their communities - they are part of what drives me to continually improve the care I provide.

“Dr Fisher understood that you can’t just put a neat line between a patient’s physical health and their emotional wellbeing - the two are inextricably linked. Every day I have the privilege to work with people at every stage of their lives from birth through to death. 

“Like Eric, I also believe that health is not just the absence of disease and I see that understanding the context of our patient’s life circumstances allows me to care for all their needs and help them to reach the goal of substantially improving their long-term health and vitality.”

Dr Broomfield said that this mindset was particularly important during the summer’s bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic.

“On the North Coast, like many parts of the country, the hot air was thick with bushfire smoke. This is a major problem for many people, including older and very young patients and those with respiratory problems.

“Residents were concerned about the welfare of people in their community or the prospect of losing their homes or businesses, it was an extremely stressful time.

“I had to take extra care to ensure that patients were equipped to manage complex health conditions that can result from poor air quality.

“However, as GPs, we understand the toll that significant events like this can also have on our mental health. It was important to me to take the time to speak to my patients about their overall wellbeing and how they were handling the situation.

“It is the willingness to have that conversation which can open up the opportunity to assist in supporting people when they need it the most.”

Dr Broomfield also said she recognises the impact of environment and planetary health on the wellbeing of our communities.

“In November last year, I spoke out and warned that climate change is a serious public health issue that cannot be ignored. I was speaking on behalf of all patients whose health and wellbeing was being directly affected by these unprecedented bushfires.

“This isn’t an abstract concept, communities across Australia were hurting and we know that the health of our planet is important for the health of our people so I felt it was important to bring this up as a public health issue.”

The North Coast GP is also passionate about the wellbeing of doctors. Dr Broomfield has worked within the RACGP to develop programs supporting doctors to enhance their wellbeing and look at ways of addressing the problematic issue of burnout in the medical profession.

“Doctors are people too! We experience pain, sadness, grief and dissatisfaction just as any other human does. We know it is so important to support doctors so that they can provide the best care for our patients and the community.”

Dr Broomfield helped curate and facilitate a now annual two-day workshop “NSW& ACT Wellbeing Weekend for GPs”, chaired a response group to support the needs of GPs in Training during the COVID-19 pandemic and has worked with her colleagues to push for change within RACGP policies and procedures to support GP wellbeing.

“It is vital that we take the time to check in with the people we work with every day.

“Earlier this year the Government announced access to mental health and wellbeing services through a new e-health hub and I encourage all healthcare professionals to take full advantage of these services. And as always, take the time to consult with your own GP.”

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