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Conference for General Practice: Clinical, digital, leadership

The RACGP’s 2016 Conference for General Practice was its biggest and best yet.

The length and breadth of the RACGP was on full display at its recent Annual Conference for General Practice – GP16 – held in Perth from 29 September to 1 October. All aspects of the conference theme, ‘Clinical, Digital, Leadership’, were represented through its dozens of presentations, workshops, training sessions, posters and much more.

A record number of more than 1800 GPs, healthcare professionals and other delegates came together for the conference, where they were able to mix with colleagues and celebrate general practice, and take advantage of the many learning opportunities on offer.

The first major event was the Academic Session, Fellowship and Awards Ceremony at the University of Western Australia (UWA). The learned surrounds of UWA’s Winthrop Hall provided a fitting location for the RACGP to present its annual awards, including GP, supervisor, registrar, rural registrar and general practice of the year, as well as awards from the Rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander faculties.

The Academic Session also saw the RACGP welcome a new generation of GPs with the admission of more than 120 New Fellows, acknowledging a significant milestone in the life and career of so many GPs throughout Australia.

‘We celebrate the success of the New Fellows and look forward to the contribution they will make to the future of general practice,’ Dr Frank R Jones, RACGP Immediate Past President, told the audience, including New Fellows’ friends and family.

The New Fellows, in turn, gave Dr Jones a standing ovation in thanks for his work over two years as RACGP President, a time he referred to as a ‘privilege’ and a ‘wild ride’. Dr Jones applauded the efforts of all within the RACGP, especially its members, before handing the presidential chains to new RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel.

Dr Seidel commended Dr Jones’ work in raising the profile of GPs and the RACGP.

‘The RACGP has never been in a better position,’ he said. ‘The nation has finally taken notice of the RACGP as the peak body for general practice.

‘We are and always will be the united college for all general practitioners.’

A great start

Conference convener and RACGP WA Chair Dr Tim Koh officially opened GP16 on the morning of Thursday 29 September. Dr Koh was excited by the opportunities the conference was set to offer its delegates.

‘We will look at the challenges ahead for our profession and ask, “How can we be best prepared for those challenges and solve the problems they present?”’, he told audience members.

Phil Walleystack, renowned WA entertainer and local Noongar man, performed a stirring Welcome to Country, playing his didgeridoo alongside a cello. He used this combination as a symbol for how the people of Australia can come together in a more meaningful way.

‘You see how the oldest instrument in the world, the didgeridoo, along with the cello can work so beautifully, and that’s how we have got to do it as a people – work together and walk together on this country, hand-in-hand, to make a better nation,’ he said.

Dr Jones then addressed the audience, underlining the vital importance general practice plays in national healthcare.

He praised the efforts of all GPs and the RACGP.

‘The college has raised its profile in the life of individual GPs,’ he said. ‘We are the frontline of preventive medicine and we are in an extremely fortunate position of leadership within our communities.

‘I urge you all to remain committed to our profession and the future of general practice.’

Keynote speaker Dr Sam Prince then stepped to the podium, regaling the audience with three inspirational stories about education, adventure and scabies; Bunnings warehouse, infertility and burritos; and compassion, health colliding with tech, and a grumpy CT machine.

Dr Prince, a medical doctor and entrepreneur and philanthropist who is the founder of the Zambrero restaurant chain, as well as the E-magine Foundation and the One Disease not-for-profit organisation, spoke about what he had learned in and out of the healthcare profession.

In telling stories that stretched from remote Arnhem Land to Sri Lanka to Sydney, Dr Prince lauded the work of GPs and other healthcare providers, while also challenging all in the profession to ask if they could do better.

‘When I think about the doctors that have gone before us, who had so much damn resilience to change things, I wonder and imagine what general practice could look like,’ he said.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley closed the plenary, assuring GPs that she hears their message and understands their value to a robust healthcare system.

‘A strong primary care system is fundamental to a strong national health system,’ she said. ‘I do recognise and regularly hear your message that a dollar invested in primary care saves many more dollars down the track, and this is something I would like to continue to work in partnership with [the RACGP] to champion.

‘It’s why we’re taking up the reforms GPs have longed campaigned for, like Health Care Homes. These were reforms the RACGP brought to me via their concept for the patient-centred medical home.’

Never stop learning

This year’s conference program was, as always, packed with a vast range of events and learning opportunities, including oral presentations, hands-on workshops, active learning modules, research sessions and short papers. The broad canvas of topics included vital areas such as refugee health, respiratory and smoking, rural and remote healthcare, sexual health, chronic disease, cultural awareness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, and many more.

The conference exhibition hall also proved a hive of activity. With a record of more than 125 exhibitors, there was plenty of choice for delegates who wanted to learn more about organisations working in the healthcare space.

The RACGP’s booth was a hub at the centre of the hall, with many of the college’s key areas represented. GPs were able to conduct a rural career health check, explore the new myRACGP member portal, check in on their QI&CPD status, and ‘have a yarn’ with the team from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

This year’s exhibition hall also featured the new ‘Interactive product zone’. This popular addition allowed GPs to get a genuine feel for new products and actually touch and use items on display. The ‘Recharge lounge’ was again a hit with attendees, who were able revitalise themselves with coffee and ice-cream, and even a massage.

GP16 was also the venue for the RACGP’s 59th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Convocation.

Always a major event, Convocation provides RACGP members the opportunity to be heard on their thoughts and beliefs about the current and future states of general practice. The ongoing Governance Review was a major topic this year in what was a lengthy debate.

The AGM was followed by the RACGP’s second-ever member forum, in which GPs from all over Australia sat on a panel to delve into the member-selected topics ‘revalidation’ and ‘digital disruption’.

Attendees were also provided with lots of opportunities for networking and socialising with their healthcare colleagues.

New Fellows and registrars were able to get together and build their own desserts at the ‘Sweet Time’ event, while students gathered at their own welcome and networking breakfast.

All delegates were invited to the GP16 Welcome Reception at the conclusion of the conference’s first day, and the RACGP Foundation’s morning walk was again a hit, with the intrepid walkers treated to a thorough tour of Perth early on Friday morning.

The conference’s social calendar closed with its spectacular Gala Dinner, where recently retired South Australian GP Dr John Litt was presented with the Rose-Hunt Award, the highest honour the RACGP bestows on any of its members. 

Fitting conclusion

GP16 came to an end with the closing plenary, at which inspiring domestic violence survivor and campaigner Rosie Batty addressed the audience. She reminded GPs of their powerful position and the vital role they can play in helping people who are experiencing domestic violence.

‘It is in your practice ... patients who are visiting you on a daily basis will be experiencing violence in their homes,’ she said. ‘Your very role is to ask the question when you know something is wrong, when that person may be blaming themselves.

‘They may not even think they are worthy of someone like you taking the time to care.’

Dr Seidel also took to the stage in one of his first official acts as the new RACGP President, paying tribute to the efforts of the college and all of those involved in bringing together the conference.

‘GP16 has been an exceptional event,’ he said. ‘Our profession has been presented with an extraordinary range of topics that really are at the heart of general practice.’

Dr Koh called GP16 ‘the biggest and most successful RACGP conference to date’ before officially handing the conference message stick to GP17 conference convener, RACGP NSW&ACT Chair Dr Guan Yeo.

‘I am excited to officially assume the role of GP conference convener for 2017,’ Dr Yeo said. ‘I very much look forward to welcoming all of you next year in spectacular Sydney.’