Cooma’s Dr Hamish Steiner has been named 2021 Rural Doctor of the Year by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) after stepping in to help save the only general practice in the town of Bombala, approximately an hour away.
“There’s lots of people who probably deserve it as much or more than me, but I got nominated and managed to get through so that was lucky,” said Dr Steiner, humbly.
He is the co-owner of a general practice in Cooma and also a long-standing visiting medical officer (VMO) at Cooma Hospital, where he provides emergency and inpatient services, and is on their on-call roster.
In 2020, there were fears the community of Bombala would be left without a local GP when the town could not find someone to replace long-serving Dr Colin Pate, who retired in April 2021.
Dr Pate handed over the business to Dr Steiner, who also struggled with that same challenge and feared the service would be closed. After a lot of hard work and a desperate plea to the Federal Government and NSW Government, Dr Steiner was able to secure doctors to come in for temporary periods and keep Bombala Medical Centre in business for the time being.
However, the battle is far from over as the service remains dependant on the availability of locum doctors, who are currently in high demand. Seemingly there is no easy fix in sight.
“As far as ways of fixing it, it’s really hard to know,” said Dr Steiner. “The government has various incentives and things like that, but none of them seem to have been terribly effective.”
Dr Steiner has found that many doctors who accept the incentives and move to local regions find they can make just as much money in metropolitan areas if they’re willing to work hard.
For young doctors, Dr Steiner says the rural doctor role provides much more interesting work and has the added benefit of being a vital cog in a small community.
Discussing Dr Steiner’s achievement, RDAA president Dr John Hall said it is recognition of his tireless work to maintain and improve healthcare in Cooma and the surrounding region.
“Bombala has struggled for many years to attract more doctors, and Hamish and his colleagues have worked to have the practice accredited to enable GP registrars to work there and improve its chances of attracting a long-term medical workforce,” said Dr Hall.
“All this has occurred against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing vaccination rollout, and the additional impact that has had on medical practices and their workloads.
“Hamish is also passionate about educating and mentoring medical students and GP registrars, and is a very popular supervisor. He freely makes himself available to provide advice and support to registrars at all times, as well as to provide orientations for locums and visiting specialists at the local hospital.”
Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain said the region is blessed with a number of community-minded doctors such as Dr Steiner.
“Hamish is a tireless advocate for regional healthcare and has been one of the local doctors I have gone to for guidance and advice on rural and regional health policy, and ways in which shortages can and should be addressed,” she said.
“Being named 2021 Rural Doctor of the Year is recognition of Hamish’s ongoing dedication and support to the Snowy-Monaro region, and it is very well deserved.”