GPs’ powers and passions recognised with Oz Day gongs

11 minute read

These doctors have been recognised for their work both inside and outside of the consult room this Australia Day.

Fifteen general practitioners have been recognised in this year’s Australia Day awards, with achievements that range from para-equestrian judging to mastering the bagpipes.

Of the 15 doctors, 12 were awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), two were appointed Members of the Order of Australia (AM) and one was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

Professor Charlotte Hespe was one of the two GPs to be appointed AM and will be familiar to many as the former RACGP NSW chair.

“Without [GPs], there’s no doubt the Australian health system would fall over,” she told The Medical Republic.

“It’s been my major passion to try and make sure that general practice is actually in a sustainable and healthy position going forward.”

Professor Hespe was also added to the Covid-19 Honour Roll and said she had been proud to lead NSW and the ACT through the worst of the pandemic.

“I feel like this award is actually honouring what the GPs have done over these last few years, which have been really, really difficult for everybody,” she said.

Dr Virginia Longley, a GP in the WA town of Denmark, was awarded an OAM for her service to medicine.

“I just love the community and the challenge of trying to deliver quality medicine in rural Australia, where we don’t have many resources,” she told TMR.

In May last year, Dr Longley became a paraplegic following surgery on her spine.

She’s since managed to return to work, hoping “to give a little bit of service to the community for a while longer”.

Outside of the practice room, Dr Longley was a keen horse rider. She’s now putting her medical knowledge to use as a classifier and judge for the para-equestrian community.

“When the French Olympics come, have a look and see what these disabled athletes do,” she said.

“Just this weekend, I judged a young woman who’s been a paraplegic for 30 years and who is wheelchair bound and she got on a big horse with Velcro to keep her in the saddle … these people don’t give in to their disability.”

Vice president of DeafBlind Australia’s national board Dr David Squirrell’s extensive career in medicine and advocacy has garnered him an OAM in recognition of his service to people with disability and to the community.

His extensive medical career, which includes 13 degrees and many years as a rural doctor in anaesthesia, obstetrics, surgery, trauma and retrievals, was truncated by the onset of a genetic condition causing deafblindness in 2008.

Since then, rather than fall into self-pity, Dr Squirrell engrossed himself in research and advocacy work with over 20 governmental committees acting as a disability representative, and in other senior advocacy positions.

Dr Squirrell’s other accolades include finalist for Australian of the year in 2021 and finalist for Blind Australian of the year in 2019.

Dr Squirrell continues to fight against the systemic failings of the NDIA to recognise the varied needs of deafblind people.

Gold Coast GP Dr Ian Cameron was awarded an OAM in recognition of his service to medicine and community music.

Dr Cameron, who has been playing the bagpipes since his teen years, told TMR he enjoys being able to combine his two passions.

“At the nursing homes that I attend to look after the residents, I quite often do monthly concerts in their dining room and play for them, particularly when they have a 100th birthday,” he said.

Dr Matthew Thomas Young spent much of his career embedded in community through sports, spending 18 years as the team doctor for Souths Rugby Union club.

He was awarded an OAM for his service to community health.

“The vibe of amateur sport, the mateship, the camaraderie and the altruism of everyone involved in that organisation was really something very, very special,” he said of his time with the Souths.

Dr Young is now the owner of Medeco Inala Medical Centre and co-founded the Kombi Clinic with Joss O’Loan in 2017, which brings accessible Hepatitis C testing and treatment to remote Queenslanders.

“It’s been incredibly gratifying to turn around people’s lives,” said Dr Young of the Kombi Clinic.“It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done in my career.”

Dr Young recently set up Medical Culture Club, a new initiative to address mental health in doctors and has pivoted from rugby to cricket, now coaching his sons at the South Flanders Cricket Club.

Melbourne GP Dr Christine Longman was also awarded OAM for her service to medicine.

Alongside general practice, she’s worked in alcohol and drug services, gestational diabetes clinics and as a doctor on call for the Victorian Doctors’ Health Program.

“My interest in drug and alcohol medicine which arose in the late 90s because there was heroin appearing in the western [suburbs] and I had no idea what to do,” she told TMR.

“I called up the hospital, which was just setting up a drug and alcohol service, and they offered me a job – so I took that!”

While she’s also dabbled in prison health, medical education and advocacy, Dr Longman said her “great love” is general practice.

“I’m flabbergasted that someone’s thought I’ve done a good job and decided to nominate me … I’m absolutely thrilled that GPs are getting nominated [for these awards],” she said.

“In the past it’s typically been specialists … but GPs work really hard and do a lot of the bread-and-butter care for the community.”

Dr Ian Hosegood, a GP with special interest in aviation medicine, received an OAM for his work in the aerospace sector.

He started his career in the Australian Defence Force and has since worked in almost every Australian state, as well as Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Timor, the UK, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

“All of my work has been associated with the nexus between occupational medicine and, very specifically, aerospace medicine,” he told TMR.

“It’s about the impact of flying on humans and the impact of human health on the safety of flight.”

While the importance of having been awarded an OAM for his service to medicine, doesn’t escape Dr Jeffrey Robinson, all credit must go to his wonderfully supportive wife, rural generalist Dr Libby Garoni, and the “very supportive team of skilled clinicians” around him, he told TMR.

“I’m a generalist, I do a bit of everything really,” Dr Robinson told TMR.

“And the reason I’m in the country and working in a rural area is because I made a decision early on that I wanted to be a generalist and use as many of the medical skills I’d learned at university as I could,” he said.

“I was, in a way, reacting against the trend to specialisation which surrounded me where I was working at the time and in rural Melbourne.

“So moving out to the country and becoming a rural doctor was a deliberate decision to broaden the scope of work that I can do.”

On top of his role as a GP and partner at Mount Beauty and Falls Creek Medical Centre, Dr Robinson has been director of Medical Services for Alpine Health in Victoria since 2010 and is a medical advisor at Albury Wodonga Health.

Having spent 43 years as a family doctor and practice owner in Mulgoa, Dr Adrian Sheen, who was awarded an OAM for service to medicine through a range of roles, told TMR that this “very special” and “unexpected” award should serve to recognise the work of the work of all family doctors.

“I suppose it is a bit of an achievement to still be able to be in practice, particularly under current drama,” Dr Sheen told TMR.

“I’m very grateful to many people for that, my family and my staff,” he said.

“Without them, we would have sunk.”

The length of service to once community demonstrated by Dr Sheen shouldn’t be unique, he said, “it should be the standard”.

According to Dr Sheen, there’s a “wonderful, lifeslong, satisfying career” available to anyone wanting to be a family doctors, but it’s important to have “confidence in the value of your own services”, “value your position in the community” and not be swayed by “other offerings”.

“[GPs] are womb-to-tomb doctors,” he added.

“You have to stay put for a long time before you have your road to Damascus moment and suddenly realise what it’s like to be an integral part of people’s lives as a family doctor.”

Dr Sheen also lectures at Sydney University, is the co-chairman of the charity Freedom Across Australia and founder of Vatu Health Chairty in Fiji and is the leader of the Mulgoa Road Jazz Band.

He was the vice president of the NSW branch of the AMA from 1997-99.

The generalist doctor to receive the highest level of recognition this year was Professor the Honourable Hugh Heggie PSM, who was appointed AO.

Professor Heggie spent 20 years working as a rural generalist on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula but is currently serving as the Administrator of the Northern Territory, a role similar to that of a state governor.

Prior to his appointment as Administrator, Professor Heggie was the territory’s Chief Health Officer.

He’s not the only doctor-turned-political-figure to be recognised this year, with former GP and WA parliamentarian Dr Judith Edwards also appointed AM.

Dr Edwards represented the electorate of Maylands in the Parliament of Western Australia between 1990 and 2008 and spent several years as the Minister for the Environment under Geoff Gallop’s Labor administration.

Prior to being elected, Dr Edwards worked as a GP in the Perth suburb of Mount Lawley, as well as a sessional medical officer for various reproductive health organisations.

Dr Arne Rubinstein, who was awarded an OAM in the General Division for his service to youth, left his career as a GP and emergency medical doctor in 2012 to work full time with Rites of Passage to help guide children into adulthood.

As the CEO and founder of the Rites of Passage Institute in Australia, Dr Rubinstein has helped create camps and programs that celebrate the transition from childhood to adulthood and foster child-parent relationships.

Rites of Passage camps and programs are accessible in around 25 countries across the world, Dr Rubinstein told TMR, and have been attended by almost half a million young people.

Dr Christine McConnell, who spent the bulk of her medical career with the Rural Flying Doctor Service in WA, received an OAM.

A fellow of both ACRRM and the RACGP, Dr McConnell did stints as an Antarctic Medical Officer at Mawson Station and Macquarie Island in the early 1990s.

“Sub-Antarctica and Antarctica are both fantastic places and were out of this world experiences, so they have a fair impact on my life and memory,” she told TMR.

“However, there are many similarities to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, with both being in a remote location, working with a small group and a team that has a goal that it’s dedicated towards.”

Dr Suzanne Harrison, a rural generalist in Echuca and one of ACRRM’s founding fellows, was awarded an OAM for her service to rural medicine.

“I like the diversity in practice as a rural generalist,” she told TMR.

“I’ve been a GP anaesthetist, as well as done primary care and even private general practice, where I was a practice owner, and also a visiting medical officer at the local hospital.”

Sydney GP Dr Starlette Isaacs received an OAM in recognition of her long service to her community in the inner-city suburb of Balmain.

Dr Isaacs, who spent 50 years working as a GP, is now making the most of her retirement.

Anyone can nominate any Australian for an award in the Order of Australia. If you know someone worthy, nominate them now at

Full list as follows:

Professor Hugh Heggie PSM, AO

Professor Charlotte Hespe, AM

Dr Judith Edwards, AM

Dr Ian Cameron, OAM

Dr Suzanne Harrison, OAM

Dr Ian Hosegood, OAM

Dr Starlette Isaacs, OAM

Dr Virginia Longley, OAM

Dr Christine Longman, OAM

Dr Christine McConnell, OAM

Dr Jeffrey Robinson, OAM

Dr Arne Rubinstein, OAM

Dr Adrian Sheen, OAM

Dr David Squirrell, OAM

Dr Matthew Young, OAM

Note: we try our best to identify every GP and rural generalist physician receiving an Australia Day award. Sometimes we miss a couple – email to notify us of anyone who has been overlooked.

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