Rural Round-up: A Rural Health Commissioner

At the October conference of he Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Emeritus Professor Paul Worley was announced as the first Rural Health Commissioner of Australia. Paul has a distinguished career in rural health both as a practitioner and an academic. In addition to being a rural GP, he was Dean of Medicine at Flinders University, South Australia, from 2007 to 2017 and more recently was appointed as Executive Director of medical services with Country Health South Australia local health network. Paul is on the Council of the WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice (WONCA Rural).

Comment from the chair of WONCA Rural, John Wynn- Jones

Paul is not only the first person in Australia to hold this position but he is probably the first person anywhere in the world to hold such an important, high level government post. Australia has led the world in recognising the need to invest in a rural workforce that is truly “fit for purpose”. To many of us around the world who are battling for investment in training & education and the recognition of the skills and knowledge needed to care for rural and isolated communities this seems a distant dream and we are all very envious. Please take the opportunity to watch Paul’s inspiring speech.

The Speech

To view the speech click on the link – (Speech commences at 5:54)

Excerpts of the speech follow:

Nelson Mandela said that "education is the most powerful weapon with which we can change the world", so I don’t think it’s any accident my first charge is to implement, extend a national rural generalist training pathway but of course that pathway is not something that is coming off a blank slate we are building on the shoulders of giants.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge that we are building on thousands of years of health training in this place - that of course has been undertaken by our aboriginal Australians and we acknowledge that what we do is building on their culture – their culture of healing, their culture of community, their culture of family, which we see so poignantly in rural Australia. I acknowledge that that culture exists still today and respect it and respect those people in the audience who are part of that culture.

….. We need a different model for rural Australia.

Yesterday was a very poignant day for my state - we lost our manufacturing industry of Holden and I have been aware that many of the people in Adelaide have had a sense of despair and confusion. Where to next? But I’ve also reflected that every person who lives in a small rural community when the health service is under threat feel exactly the same: be they a pregnant woman who doesn’t know who’s going to be able to help deliver the baby; be they an adult with a father or mother who needs aged care and they’re not sure whether that can be close to home or not; or whether that be someone with children at school not knowing how that child is going to progress.

The care that we provide is the bedrock for hope in our rural communities and I hope that as the champion for rural health Australia on your behalf we can increase that hope because health is a human right.

Australia has commissioner for human rights. It is absolutely appropriate that we now have a Commissioner for Rural Health. It is also an economic investment.

We know that globally there is a 9 to 1 leverage for every dollar that is invested in the health workforce and we know that the outcomes of that health workforce, which is increased length of life - for every increased length of life of one year, there is a 4% increase in GDP. So this investment in us all by the federal government is also an investment in the prosperity of rural communities, and the prosperity of rural communities has a great impact on the prosperity of our nation - so this is not just something for rural Australia but is also something for the whole of Australia.

……We have the opportunity to stand on our own two feet as rural Australia. To no longer be reliant on the release of doctors who are trained in the Metro centric model. To no longer be just rural doctors but to proudly be rural generalists serving our communities across the 10 million people that call rural Australia home - that call this wide brown land our home, that call this land of ragged mountain ranges, that call the land of the jewel-sea home; that call the land of terror and beauty. (1)

And that’s where we step in because there is a terror if your health is threatened. There is a hope if there is a health service that is sustainable. ….


1. Dorothea McKellar “My Country” 1908
I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains
I love her far horizons
I love who jewel- sea
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me