William Arnold Conolly oration – “Lead and Inspire”

October 09, 2014

Delivered October 8, 2014 at the conference of the Royal Australian College of GPs in Adelaide.
The theme of this conference, and the title of this 2014 WA Conolly Oration is “Lead and Inspire.”  Lead and Inspire is a perfect title for an oration named in honour of our college’s first president, William Arnold Conolly, known as Bill.
In preparing for this oration I realized that I didn’t know a lot about our first president, Bill Conolly.  He died while I was still at medical school and I never had the opportunity to meet him. I wanted to understand what made our first RACGP president someone who was able to inspire his peers and lead the establishment of our college all those years ago. So I contacted some of the senior members of our college, Eric Fisher, David Game and Wes Fabb, and asked for their insights into his man and his contributions. 
Eric Fisher described Bill as “a quiet unassuming man with a passion for improving the academic standing and standards of general practice.  He was always a good and attentive listener. He recognised people with good ideas and offered them support and backing to have their ideas implemented. Hence the burgeoning College in its formative years was a hotbed of new initiatives.”
Wes Fabb said, “Bill was a generous, kindly and good humoured, man, a no-nonsense fellow – taciturn, practical, and straight to the point.”
David Game said, “Bill Conolly was always very kindly and helpful.  Nevertheless he was determined that the College should flourish. He was also the reason I joined the College.”
Bill Conolly was a rural GP, recognizing right at the outset the importance of our college supporting all general practitioners, and especially those facing the additional challenges of working in rural and remote Australia.  Bill worked in rural New South Wales at Molong, near Orange, and then Cessnock, in the beautiful Hunter Region, before finally moving to Sydney later in life. In 1952 Bill Conolly visited the United Kingdom and met with John Hunt and discussed with him the proposed formation of a College of General Practitioners in Britain.
The idea of a college for GPs had been inspired by another Australian GP, Joseph Collings, who had published a paper in the Lancet medical journal in 1950 on the poor quality of much general practice in Britain at the time.  The article by Joseph Collings advocated for the need for standards and training for general practice and through his influence general practitioner leaders in the United Kingdom were inspired to establish the Royal College of General Practitioners. 
Bill Conolly was inspired by the formation of the British College and when he returned to Australia he spoke with enthusiasm at meetings of local general practitioners about his vision and led the establishment of our own college, becoming our first president in 1958.
One of Bill’s early successors as RACGP President was the Victorian, Monty Kent Hughes, who went on in 1972 to become the first president of WONCA, the world organization of family doctors.  Another early president of our college was South Australia’s own David Game, who also became WONCA President.  And last year I followed in their very large footprints becoming the third Australian to serve as WONCA President.
You might think that WONCA is a funny name for a global health organization, and you would be right.  It started out as the first five letters of our official name, the World Organization of National Colleges and Academies of Family Medicine and General Practice, now shortened to the World Organization of Family Doctors.  But the thing about a funny name is that everybody remembers it.  In the clamour of confusing acronyms of global health organisations, our global organization’s name is highly recognizable, highly memorable and highly respected. 
Our strongest global supporter is the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Margaret Chan, who recently stood up at an international meeting of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine and proclaimed “I love family medicine”, which didn’t impress the members of the other medical specialties present in the room.
WONCA was formed by 18 colleges and academies from around the world.  WONCA now has Member Organisations representing over 500,000 family doctors in 131 countries around the world. 
The 500,000 family doctors represented by WONCA, and including all those of us here, each year have over 2 billion consultations with our patients.  Two billion.  That’s the scope of our current work and our influence.
But we need to do more. We need to work to ensure that every family doctor, every GP, every primary care doctor in the world, joins us in our commitment to education and training and to the delivery of high quality primary care to our patients and communities. Through WONCA we need to continue to support primary care research to provide the evidence on the best ways to deliver health care to the people of our nations.
And we need to ensure that high quality primary care is made available to all people in the world.  At the moment there are one billion people who have no access to any healthcare at all.  Access to healthcare for yourself and your family is a human rights issue, and yet it is denied to 1/7th of the world’s population.  In 2014 this is inexcusable.
So through WONCA we need to expand our commitment to the education and training of family doctors and the provision of quality care to the 80 nations of the world where WONCA does not yet have a presence, which includes many low income nations and lower middle income nations, including some of our nearest neighbours. 
I hope that the members of the RACGP will continue to work with me to provide much needed support to strengthen general practitioner training and quality care in our nearest neighbours where much support is needed to lift the standards of primary care and ensure health care access for all people, especially in Papua New Guinea, in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and in the island nations of the Western Pacific.
As general practitioners, we are all in the business of leading and inspiring.  Each of us is a leader in our local community.  Through our commitment to quality care and training and the application of research into clinical care, we ensure the health and well being of our individual patients. 
We are also committed to the health and well being of our local communities and we have a respected voice and the opportunity to advocate about key health issues. 
As teachers and supervisors and mentors of our medical students and registrars, we also have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of Australia’s general practitioners.  
And through working together, as members of Australia’s largest and most influential medical college, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, we have the ability to lead health care developments at a national level, and through our membership of WONCA, at a global level.
If we are going to lead and inspire, then we need people who inspire us and teach us to be leaders.  Each of us has been influenced in our choice of general practice as a career by the general practitioners who taught us and inspired us through the way they practice. 
I have been influenced by my many great GP colleagues who I have worked alongside, including my long time partner in practice, Marilyn McMurchie, who inspired me on how to be a GP for every member of our community, and especially the most vulnerable and marginalised. 
I have also worked alongside many of Australia’s great and inspiring GP academic leaders in my roles at Monash University, The University of Sydney and now Flinders University, and many of them have been recipients of the Rose-Hunt Award including John Murtagh, Neil Carson, Chris Silagy, Deborah Saltman, Leanne Rowe, Charles Bridges-Webb, Neil Spike, Di O’Halloran, Morton Rawlin, the list goes on and on. 
And through involvement with our college from the days when I was a GP trainee 30 years ago, I have had the privilege to work alongside and learn from many of the great leaders of our college, past presidents, chairs, council members, committee chairs, and many dedicated college members, and many wonderful members of our college staff, many of you sitting here in this audience today.
I have also been inspired by those I was supposed to be teaching.  The energy and enthusiasm of our medical students and our registrars is a continuing source of inspiration for a tired old GP like me. 
One of my most important current roles is as patron of the General Practice Students Network, an organization founded by medical students, dedicated to promoting general practice as a great career choice, and supported financially by our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, when he was Minister for Health.  The General Practice Students Network is the fastest growing medical organization in Australia and currently has more than 10,000 medical student members, all with an interest in finding out more about a career in general practice.
I have also had the opportunity to supervise many GP registrars over the years.  And I am proud to say that one of my former GP registrars is Liz Marles, the retiring president of our college.  Liz, you have been magnificent.  You have done a remarkable job as our president.  Thank you for your dedication and tireless commitment to Australian general practice over the past two years and for leading and inspiring us all. 
Our next president, Frank Jones, is not one of my former registrars. Frank, our college is going to require inspired leadership from you as well over the coming two years with the dramatic changes about to take place in general practice training, and, if the copayment gets up, in the challenge of continuing to deliver quality general practice to all people in Australia.  We will need a president who is willing to make the huge personal commitments needed at a very challenging time.
Frank, I am sure you will do well, and here is one thing you will discover quickly.  When the president of our college asks a member to do something, they actually to it. Everyone in our college wants to support our president in their quest to advance general practice.  And that includes all our past presidents.  Frank, know that you have our support.  We are all behind you.
We also receive inspiration from our family and friends.  You don’t get to be an effective leader without strong support at home, as I have received from my family, and especially my partner, Alastair, who stood beside me during four long and very challenging years as RACGP president, and in the years since.
We should all be proud of our college.  Our work is of critical importance to our nation.  We are an integral part of the fabric of Australian society.
I am especially proud of the work our college has been doing in recent years to better meet the health care needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to support Australia’s growing cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctor.  I commend the leadership of our newest faculty by Brad Murphy, and I commend the visible representation of our support for the Indigenous people of our nation through our new faculty academic gown.  As WONCA president I wear our new RACGP gown with pride at formal events at colleges overseas.  I expect Bill Conolly would also have approved.
Eric Fisher says that Bill Conolly was someone who you always tended to listen to because his words contained great wisdom.  Eric says that when Bill Conolly was once asked, what is the purpose of the college, he said “To make good general practitioners, better general practitioners”.
Bill Conolly was a true leader who inspired and encouraged others to give of their best for the benefit of our College.  His legacy lives on through the work that every one of us contributes as a member of the RACGP, working together to ensure that the people of Australia, and through WONCA, the people of the world, receive the best possible care from well-trained and well-supported general practitioners.
And our own legacies will live on also, through the work each of us contributes towards making our world a better place. I thank you for your commitment to our college and your commitment to being a better general practitioner.  And I thank you for the important work you do every day making a difference in the lives of the people who trust you for their medical care and advice. 

Thank you all.
Professor Michael Kidd AM