Committing to community: meet ACRRM’s new president

5 minute read

Queensland rural generalist Dr Dan Halliday has worked through some of the most extreme conditions the country has to offer.

Dr Dan Halliday has been announced as the next president of ACRRM, taking up the mantle from Dr Sarah Chalmers in October. 

The rural generalist grew up in Tenterfield, just over the border from his current home in Stanthorpe, Queensland, and counts former ACRRM president Dr Ewen McPhee among his mentors.  

He hopes that his term as president will be defined by consistency for college members, especially throughout the move to college-led training.  

“The processes of the college [will remain] what they are and we will minimise any disruptions as much as possible,” Dr Halliday told The Medical Republic.  

“The transition to college-led training hasn’t been without its challenges already, but I think that ACRRM has demonstrated [its capability in leading] the transition in NSW and the ACT already.”  

Dr Halliday also hopes to drum up more formal support for ACRRM’s supervisors and for preventative medicine.  

“If we focus on quality supervision and training, and we resource our valuable supervisors to be there to actually support our keen and altruistic registrars who want to practice in remote areas, then that will empower a quality and safety narrative,” he said.  

“That will then underpin workforce provision into the future.” 

This isn’t Dr Halliday’s first rodeo – about 10 years ago, he was elected president of the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland and prior to that has represented rural doctors and doctors in training at various organisations.  

His current role is as a medical superintendent at Stanthorpe Hospital, where he also has an agreement to work in private practice in places like nearby Inglewood.  

“I provide relief and cover [in Inglewood] as well as providing supervision and support to trainees in that community,” Dr Halliday said. 

“[Queensland Health] also look at novel and innovative outreach models, such as what we provide to the Armajun Aboriginal Medical Service in Tenterfield, across the border in NSW.” 

While Dr Halliday grew up with a classic country doctor as a role model, it wasn’t until he did his advanced training in obstetrics that he realised the vital role that rural doctors can play in the community.  

“It was a big eye-opener for me,” he said. “I learnt to appreciate the time and effort required of rural generalists to actually commit not just to their practice of medicine, but commit to their community. 

“I think that was the first real instance that I was able to apply what I had learned through my training in my early postgraduate years to the context of the provision of medicine in rural and remote Australia.”  

Community was never more important than in September 2019, when the Black Summer bushfires hit the Stanthorpe region.  

Dr Halliday was in Tenterfield, checking stock on the family property, when he and his father noticed smoke coming from the direction of the town.  

“We rushed back into town, and the fire had sort of passed by then, but there was still significant damage on the south side of Tenterfield and across to the range to the east,” he said.  

“I then got a message from my wife in the late afternoon, saying that things were developing in Stanthorpe, so I again rushed home.” 

His home was safe, but others in the rural town were not so lucky.  

“We had a fire event which threatened the western and northern sides of Stanthorpe, with a lot of property and bush damage,” said Dr Halliday.  

“There were ember episodes on the town, with embers falling into the grounds of Stanthorpe Hospital as well.”  

Led by the hospital’s director of nursing, the medical team coordinated resources and stood up a response team.  

“It demonstrated the importance of having a good rural generalist model across all layers of medical training, from fellows to registrars to interns to medical students, and to nursing students putting out embers on the grounds of the hospital at two o’clock in the morning,” Dr Halliday said.  

“These were one-off events, but they needed good coordination.  

“We were lucky that we had an awesome group of professionals in town that that stood up to be counted when the need was there.” 

If bushfires were the acute end of the climate-health interaction in Stanthorpe, then the preceding years of drought represent the thicker end of the wedge.  

“The drought affected the makeup of our community,” Dr Halliday said.  

“Young families had to move out of town to search for work and that affected our birth rates and the like as well.” 

For 18 months starting in 2018, Stanthorpe had to truck in water supplies and residents were living on 80L of water per person per day. The average city dweller’s usage is 200L/day.  

It’s the sort of thing, according to Dr Halliday, that leaves an imprint on a person’s psyche.  

“But Stanthorpe is an amazingly resilient community, it’s been able to look at the glass half full, I think, in terms of the rain that we’ve had within the last couple of years,” he said.  

“It’s slowly turning around.”  

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