New National Rural Health Commissioner named

4 minute read

An experienced rural GP, researcher, advocate and educator, Professor Jenny May AM ticks all the boxes.

Professor Jenny May AM, a rural GP, educator and health workforce researcher, has been appointed as the next National Rural Health Commissioner. 

Professor May will take over from Adjunct Professor Ruth Stewart, who will leave at the end of June after four years in the role. 

An acting Commissioner will be appointed to hold the reins until Professor May starts on 2 September. 

“Jenny’s experience, expertise and drive will help continue the reforms necessary to build better models of care suited to the needs of people living outside of our cities,” said federal minister for health Mark Butler, announcing the appointment. 

“On behalf of the government I thank Professor Stewart for her work to make sure the voices of rural, regional and remote Australians were amplified and listened to when it comes to their health services.” 

Professor May is currently the director of the University of Newcastle’s Department of Rural Health, based in Tamworth. She received the AM in 2016 for significant service to community health in rural and regional Australia as a general practitioner, to professional medical groups and to education. 

Praise for the appointment was quick to follow the announcement, with the president of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Associate Professor Dan Halliday saying Professor May’s 25 years of experience as a rural generalist was welcome. 

“Healthcare leaders such as those in role of the Commissioner are pivotal in influencing positive outcomes for communities and the profession,” said Professor Halliday.  

“ACRRM looks forward to developing a strong working relationship with Professor May to enable us to meet our goals.  

“[Her] extensive background, representing the profession through the Rural Doctors Association of Australia and the National Rural Health Alliance, and publishing research on workforce distribution and retention, demonstrates her experience and competence to inform policy aimed at developing and maintaining a sustainable rural health workforce. 

“I wish to offer my personal thanks to Ruth Stewart for her commitment to rural health, as she played a significant role in advancing rural generalism, particularly through policy development via the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, support for innovative models of care, and growing the RG workforce.” 

RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins also thanked Professor Stewart for her work in progressing the recognition of rural generalism and welcomed Professor May to the role.

“[Professor] May has been a fantastic advocate for the health of rural Australians for years, and I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role,” Dr Higgins said.

“Ensuring we have the GPs we need in rural Australia has been a focus for Professor May, and I could not be more confident her expertise will help Australia to meet those communities’ needs.”

Susi Tegen, National Rural Health Alliance CEO, said Professor May was “exceptionally well-suited” to the role of Commissioner. 

“We are delighted with the government’s appointment of Professor May to this important role,” she said. 

“Her deep understanding of rural health issues and the health workforce, and her advocacy for equitable healthcare access make her an ideal candidate. 

“Her dedication to addressing the unique challenges faced by rural Australians aligns closely with the mission of the Alliance, where she has been an active member for many years,” Ms Tegen said. 

“We also thank the outgoing Commissioner Professor Ruth Stewart for her untiring efforts to advocate for healthcare equity. We greatly appreciate her engagement with the Alliance and rural communities throughout her term, which has been earnest and forthcoming. 

“We look forward to working closely with Professor May in her new capacity, building on the work of Professor Ruth Stewart’s commitments. We are confident that her leadership will drive positive and long-needed changes for rural health.” 

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