03 September 2021

South Australian and Northern Territory GPs awarded top honours

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has announced the South Australian and Northern Territory winners of its annual Awards program for general practice.

The RACGP Awards celebrate exceptional individuals in Australian general practice for their outstanding achievements and contribution to the health of their community.

The winners of the RACGP’s South Australia & Northern Territory faculty are:
  • GP of the Year, Dr Penelope Steele, Darwin
  • GP in Training of the Year, Dr Nathan Lam, Streaky Bay
  • GP Supervisor of the Year, Dr William Staridas, Sefton Park
  • General practice of the Year, Goolwa Medical Centre, Goolwa
RACGP President Dr Karne Price congratulated the winners.

“The RACGP Awards are an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the hard work of GPs and their teams in caring for their communities,” she said.

“This year’s winners from South Australia and the Northern Territory have truly gone above and beyond for their patients and contributed to the health of their communities, congratulations to you all.”

The RACGP President said it was timely to celebrate Australia's GPs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital role GPs play in every community,” she said.

“In this challenging environment, GPs and their teams have been working tirelessly on the frontline and are playing a leading role in the vaccine rollout – protecting patients and communities across the country.

“This is an opportunity to recognise GPs and their teams for their hard work and say thank you.”

GP of the Year Dr Penelope Steele started her career in a research position. However, she missed the interaction with patients and decided to move into general practice and has never looked back.

After 25 years in general practice, Dr Steele has a wealth of knowledge and experience, with a special interest in mental health, women's health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

“We must do more to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health,” she said.

“In the years that I have worked with indigenous people I have watched the health gap widen. We see more and more people with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, mental health issues, infertility and sadly substance abuse. Despite the employment of teams of committed first-class clinicians and billions of dollars we have achieved very little.

“Clearly, we need to change our model of health delivery and many clever, informed people have tried to develop a plan to do this. However, it is obvious that unless we first change the fundamental basis of health – such as nutrition, housing, engagement – we will get nowhere.

“In spite of these limitations there was plenty that I could offer as a GP. Continuity of care is crucial, and people can tell when you are committed to their well-being. So, over a lot of years, I engaged with many wonderful indigenous people. I could at least help them with acute issues, and I could advise and advocate for them when various treatments or interventions were offered to them. It has been incredibly rewarding and challenging and I would not trade this experience for the world.

“I hope to inspire young doctors and that is why I appeared in an advertising campaign encouraging doctors and nurses to work in remote Australia. I want to get that message out there – come join and help make a difference.”

GP in Training of the Year Dr Nathan Lam is both a doctor, as well as a musician with several album releases. He believes that general practice has strong similarities to music.

“Medicine and music are not purely about technical skill, but also about using creativity and coming up with new and better ways of doing things,” he said.

Dr Lam demonstrated this creativity by coming up with the novel idea of collaborating with a local church to convert an unused church hall into a COVID-19 respiratory clinic.

“When COVID-19 first arrived in Australia, patients were very scared to go to their GP. I was scared too because GPs had little or no PPE, suppliers were completely out of stock, and I was seeing travellers returning from overseas with fever or respiratory symptoms. The situation was very desperate and there were so many unknowns about COVID-19 at that time,” he said.

“When I saw this nearby isolated church building, I thought that it was perfect to be turned into a respiratory clinic. We could make the community safer by avoiding possible COVID transmission in GP clinics and restore confidence in the public that it was safe to go see their GP.

“I cold called the pastor and said, ‘this idea is going to sound crazy’, but the church was extremely supportive and also wanted to give back to the community. I’m deeply grateful to them.”

Dr Lam subsequently progressed this concept to establish and manage the Athelstone Respiratory COVID Clinic in May 2020 which continues to see patients to this day.

He volunteered to work as the sole GP on-site whilst leading a small team of nurses. Dr Lam assessed almost 1000 patients during his time there, selflessly serving the community prior to the advent of COVID-19 vaccinations.

GP Supervisor of the Year, Dr William Staridas goes the extra mile in teaching and supporting GP registrars, often advising on patient care and management after hours or during holidays. He is also very popular with his patients, and is known for being a great listening, providing practical evidence-based advice, and incorporating humour into his work where he can.

“I am dedicated to my work, but I believe it’s also important to emphasise the importance of work-life balance. I regularly check in with registrars to see how they are and make sure they are not overwhelmed,” he said.

“GPs and all healthcare workers need to make sure they are looking after their own health and wellbeing too. If you are not doing so, you will not be providing the best possible care for your patients, it’s as simple as that.”

General practice of the Year, Goolwa Medical Centre is a large and busy rural practice with 5 principal GPs. A teaching practice for over 30 years, it’s usually also home to a number of registrars, as well as medical students from Flinders University.

Partner, Dr Philip Davidson, said students and registrars were well supported at the practice and provided every opportunity to learn.

“Four registrars have stayed on at Goolwa Medical Centre after training here, which is a testament to our good reputation and staff satisfaction,” he said.

“Goolwa Medical Centre has also been exemplary in responding to the pandemic, supporting our patients and community through this challenging time.

“We commenced COVID-19 vaccine clinics in March, running them out of hours for patients. We keep a running tally of the number of vaccines provided to the community on our website, just as a way to encourage people to roll up their sleeves – we’ve provided over 7,000 vaccinations to patients so far.”

The national RACGP award winners will be announced on 20 November this year.

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