Associate Professor Morton Rawlin

BMed MMedSci FRACGP FARGP FACRRM DipPractDerm DipMedHyp DipFP DipBusAdmin GAICD

More than a job

Dr Rawlin

For Dr Morton Rawlin, winning this year's Rose-Hunt Award is not only recognition of his career, but for all of general practice.

Associate Professor Morton Rawlin has held many positions and titles over his two-decade career in medicine: Chair of the RACGP's Victorian Faculty and National Faculty of Specific Interests (NFSI), and its Director of Education; General Practice Education and Training (GPED) board member; Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council of the Commonwealth member; GP supervisor. The list goes on.

But regardless of where he has gone or what positions he has held, Rawlin has never strayed too far from his first love: clinical practice.

'I love patients, I love hearing their stories and being part of their journey through life,' he told Good Practice. 'It's been a terrific journey for me to be with them.'

As this year's recipient of the RACGP's Rose-Hunt Award, the highest honour the College bestows on any of its members, Rawlin has seen his work acknowledged in a way he never would have imagined.

'It's a really humbling award,' he said. 'I never expected or even dreamed of being recognised for the work. That's not what I do it for.

'I'm deeply honoured by the College and the people who nominated me. One of these days, if I ever find out [who nominated me], I'll have a few words with them.'

Learning on the job

Rawlin comes to the Rose-Hunt after a diverse career that saw him graduate as part of Newcastle University's first medical school class in the early '80s.

He then went to work as a physician and in emergency medicine in Sydney and Melbourne. But it was the time he and his wife, also a GP, spent in the north-east Victorian town of Yea that saw him really start to develop in general practice.

“My wife had done some family medicine program training and had always wanted to be a GP, so we set up in practice in Yea,” he said. “We were in Yea for about 10 years and in that time we became GP supervisors and I had done my [RACGP] Fellowship.

“I used to teach the registrars in their release programs and became more and more interested in education and standards.”

This increasing interest in education led Rawlin to join the RACGP's Victorian Faculty board, where he began a career-long effort to develop and improve medical education standards.

“I took over as exam panel chair in Victoria in around 1996 through till the early 2000s, where the exam rapidly increased in size, when it became compulsory to do the Fellowship in order to go into general practice. I oversaw the growth of the exam here in Victoria,” he said.

“Then I was asked to consider becoming the State Director of GPEA [General Practice Education and Training], the College's training program. From there I became the National Director of the program.”

Rawlin stayed as the National Director of Education for six years, during which he played a key role in overhauling major parts of the training programs.

“I oversaw the new standards document for training, the revamp and rewrite of the curriculum, and about three different instigations of the Ql&CPD program for the College,” he said.

But what pushes Rawlin's drive towards better education standards and practices?

“General practice as it is in Australia is looked at by our international colleagues as being the gold standard. And it is a real privilege to continue to bring new doctors into the family of our craft group and foster increasing understanding of the breadth and the depth of what general practice actually is,” he said.

Broad horizons

One of the biggest motivations in Rawlin's career has been his belief that general practice, whether by virtue of circumstance or personal preference, is not always so general.

As one of the driving forces behind the RACGP's NFSI, he has shown a strong belief that specialties and specific interests are fundamental aspects of being a well-rounded and fully prepared GP.

“It's about the life journey through general practice,” he said. “As general practitioners, we all develop specific interests and additional skills in particular areas because we're interested in them.

“Being able to recognise GPs who have specific interests and can contribute to the rest of us as an extra tier of what we do is a really important thing.

“We are generalists and we make sure our patients get the best general care, but we also are human, and bright humans, who like to challenge themselves in other areas of specific interest. Just stepping it up a notch, even if you don't always use it.”

Rawlin himself has specialised in a number of areas, most notably dermatology and mental health, two areas he is still passionate about and does much work in, but there have been a number of other areas that have informed his work as a GP.

“Over the years I have developed specific interests in mental health and dermatology, but I have also had a lot of time and energy in my career developing a specific interest in emergency medicine, particularly when I was a rural GP,” he said.

“It's still an interest of mine, but I am not actively doing rural medicine in terms of casualty-type medicine anymore. But general practice allows you to do all of those things and keep interest in an area because we are such a broad church.”

And for Rawlin, that is exactly what the NFSI is all about - identifying GPs' different abilities and giving them an avenue to pursue them - and why he drove so hard to get it established.

“The College, for many years, hadn't recognised, for want of a better term, the talent of its members, and [the NFSI] gives those people a home to discuss, to continue and to contribute to the College curriculum.”

First love

Regardless of what board he sits on, specialty he pursues or lecture he conducts, Rawlin remains faithful to his first love of clinical practice and is first and foremost a GP, working full time in his practice in Melbourne's Lower Templestowe.

“It's that broad number of things that come through the door,” he said. “You can't predict what's going to come through the door; the next cough and cold might not be a cough and cold, it might be pneumonia or something more serious.

“And it's our role as GPs to recognise the illness of people and also to help them go through that process, guide them through the healthcare system and make sure they get the best possible outcomes.”

Receiving this year's Rose-Hunt Award is a validation of all the hard work Rawlin has put into so many areas over the years.

“It certainly spurs me on to continue to be involved and continue to do as many possible things as I can for general practice more broadly and the College more specifically,” he said.

“And to encourage as many people as I can to help and do some work for the College, give back to their vocation. Because it's more than just a job.”

First published in Good Practice Issue 11 - November 2013 pp8-9 – Paul Hayes