Dr Robbie re­tires

Pop­u­lar GP re­flects on his move to De­niliquin, why he chose to stay and his med­i­cal ca­reer

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - FRONT PAGE - By ZOE MCMAUGH

It was in 1970 when a newly trained doc­tor named Peter Robin­son chose to start his ca­reer in De­niliquin.

Since then De­niliquin has been his home, ex­cept for about two years liv­ing and work­ing in Eng­land and a year train­ing in ob­stet­rics in Mel­bourne.

And while Deni will con­tinue to be home for Dr Robin­son and his wife Mar­garet, he fi­nally re­tired com­pletely as of De­cem­ber 31.

The soon-to-be 75 year-old — af­fec­tion­ately known to all as ‘Dr Robbie’ — has been a GP for 49 years.

In re­cent years he has been work­ing only part-time and mainly ad­min­is­ter­ing geri­atric health ser­vices.

He said he wanted to re­tire vol­un­tar­ily be­fore his fu­ture men­tal and phys­i­cal con­di­tion forced him to, and that his re­tire­ment would mean more time with fam­ily and trav­el­ling.

‘‘Mar­garet and I like to travel, and we have a motorhome and would like to do some more,’’ he said.

‘‘One of the things we have en­joyed over the years is be­ing able to help our chil­dren — Nick (46), Stephanie (44) and Sonya (42) — and hav­ing them nearby in De­niliquin has been great.

‘‘So we do in­tend to stick around in De­niliquin.’’

Hav­ing spent a few years liv­ing in Swan Hill with his fam­ily as a child, Dr Robin­son said coun­try medicine had al­ways ap­pealed once he de­cided to be­come a doc­tor.

He said the life­style he could en­joy in De­niliquin dur­ing his ca­reer was a de­cid­ing fac­tor for his ini­tial post­ing, and choos­ing to stay.

‘‘Be­ing a coun­try GP is very dif­fer­ent to be­ing a GP in the city,’’ Dr Robin­son said.

‘‘A lot of GPs in the cities don’t work on a duty ros­ter, and for most their day fin­ishes at 5pm.

‘‘They also have more ac­cess to spe­cial­ist trained doc­tors so don’t do as much surgery.

‘‘Luck­ily for us, we live just around the cor­ner from the hos­pi­tal. In the early days I used to cut through the yard of the home be­hind us to get to the hos­pi­tal and ma­ter­nity ward. It’s not that easy if you live in the city.

‘‘I looked at a num­ber of towns be­fore de­cid­ing on De­niliquin, where I thought Dr Fred Mid­dle­ton would of­fer me the best ex­pe­ri­ences.’’

While he can­not re­call when he chose to study medicine, Dr Robin­son said he did show an ap­ti­tude for it at school.

He said his en­try into the pro­fes­sion bucked the fam­ily trend.

‘‘All my fam­ily were in teach­ing — my par­ents and my sib­lings,’’ Dr Robin­son said.

‘‘Dur­ing the de­pres­sion teach­ing was a very safe pro­fes­sion to get into, and that was al­ways drummed into us.

‘‘Af­ter leav­ing Swan Hill we went to Mel­bourne, and I was lucky to go to the elite Mel­bourne High School. A lot of Mel­bourne high schools of­fered medicine in those days.

‘‘I cer­tainly had the marks to do medicine and I think the idea at the time is that I wanted to be able to help peo­ple.

‘‘I was among the first class of med­i­cal stu­dents to at­tend what was then the new Monash Univer­sity in Mel­bourne.’’

Dr Robin­son stud­ied for seven years — re­peat­ing his third year of medicine like many oth­ers in his class — be­fore grad­u­at­ing in 1967 and spend­ing his first year work­ing at Mel­bourne’s Prince Henry’s Hos­pi­tal.

His sec­ond year, as was a re­quire­ment, was spent rotating through dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals and as­pects of medicine to en­sure a ground­ing in all med­i­cal ar­eas.

Dr Robin­son was re­cruited to work in De­niliquin with Dr Mid­dle­ton and Dr Jim Hor­ton in 1970, and in 1971, with a bit more ex­pe­ri­ence, he took his skills to Eng­land where he was a GP for two years.

When Dr Robin­son and wife Mar­garet re­turned to Aus­tralia in 1973 he em­barked on a 12-month course in ob­stet­rics with the Queen Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal in Mel­bourne be­fore re­turn­ing to set­tle with his fam­ily in De­niliquin and re­turn­ing to work with Dr Mid­dle­ton.

‘‘I wasn’t too sure what to ex­pect from be­ing a coun­try GP when I first came to De­niliquin, but I was able to learn a lot from Dr Mid­dle­ton.

‘‘That type of learn­ing on the job doesn’t re­ally ex­ist any­more; you have all your qual­i­fi­ca­tions be­fore you ar­rive.’’

It was dur­ing that time study­ing ob­stet­rics that Dr Robin­son was able to wit­ness what he still says is one of the great­est med­i­cal ad­vance­ments in his ca­reer.

‘‘Ob­stet­rics has al­ways been a bit of a chal­lenge, but when I did my year in ob­stet­rics at the Queen Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal it was when epidu­rals were com­ing through.

‘‘Be­fore that women were in labour for three or four days, and there were some deaths as a re­sult of us­ing gen­eral anaes­the­sia dur­ing birth.

‘‘It was a great thing to have the ad­vent of pain re­lief for women, and learn­ing those skills has stood me in good stead through­out my ca­reer.

‘‘As well as spinal anaes­thetic, an epidu­ral was ef­fec­tive, but you had to be care­ful how you used it.

‘‘Labour is a nat­u­ral process — as it should con­tinue to be — and in the ideal sit­u­a­tion the pain was all part of the process. The pain dur­ing labour would be re­placed by a won­der­ful sen­sa­tion and sense of re­lief once the baby was born.

‘‘While the epidu­ral does help to man­age that pain, it also takes away from that won­der­ful feel­ing at the end, too.’’

Dr Robin­son said the in­tro­duc­tion of ac­tive labour man­age­ment was also an im­por­tant step in im­prov­ing child birth. It set in place guide­lines of when doc­tors should in­ter­vene if labour was tak­ing too long, he said.

Over­all, Dr Robin­son said ad­vance­ments in anaes­thet­ics was a huge med­i­cal achieve­ment, with pre­vi­ous op­tions pass­ing on un­in­tended se­condary health com­pli­ca­tions.

The preva­lence of women in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion also evokes some pride in Dr Robin­son, who also says the role overseas trained doc­tors play in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties is of grow­ing im­por­tance.

‘‘The overseas doc­tors’ model has been won­der­ful for coun­try ar­eas,’’ he said.

‘‘Aus­tralian grad­u­ates just don’t seem to want to come to the coun­try any­more.

‘‘Medicine had changed since I grad­u­ated. Ev­ery­thing is spe­cialised and com­put­erised, but you can’t stop progress of course.

‘‘In Aus­tralia we have a pretty high ex­pec­ta­tion of ser­vices, and in th­ese coun­try ar­eas the overseas doc­tors help fill a gap in that ser­vice.’’

In all the time Dr Robin­son has helped with the joy of birth, as­sisted to re­lieve ail­ments and watched pa­tients lose their bat­tles with dis­ease and the on-set of old age, he’s had the sup­port of a lov­ing fam­ily and com­mu­nity.

He par­tic­u­larly praises the role of his wife Mar­garet in al­low­ing him to of­ten pri­ori­tise oth­ers in the com­mu­nity.

‘‘My wife had to put up with a lot dur­ing my ca­reer,’’ he said.

‘‘I was away from home a lot of the time while we were try­ing to raise three chil­dren, and I’m sure she some­times felt an­gry when I was dash­ing off while one of the chil­dren was crying, sick or needed some­thing.

‘‘Mar­garet did quite a lot for the fam­ily, which I did not fully com­pre­hend at the time.’’

Dr Robin­son’s com­mit­ment to the health of the res­i­dents of his home town and in other ar­eas was cel­e­brated when he re­ceived an Or­der of Aus­tralia Medal in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Hon­ours list.

He was recog­nised for ‘‘ser­vice to medicine as a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner in the De­niliquin re­gion’’ with spe­cific ref­er­ence to his role at De­niliquin Hos­pi­tal and med­i­cal staff com­mit­tee meet­ings for many years, the Ru­ral Bush Doc­tors Scheme, as­sist­ing to raise funds for the hos­pi­tal and aged care fa­cil­i­ties, as­sist­ing with com­mu­nity projects through var­i­ous ser­vice clubs and be­ing a men­tor to med­i­cal stu­dents from Monash in Mel­bourne and the ru­ral cam­pus of the New South Wales uni­ver­si­ties.

How­ever the self-dep­re­cat­ing Dr Robbie still in­sists he was only do­ing his job.

Mar­garet and Peter Robin­son plan to do some trav­el­ling now that Dr Robbie has re­tired.

ABOVE & BE­LOW: Mar­garet and Peter in their ear­lier years be­fore mov­ing to De­niliquin.

Dr Robin­son at his grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in 1967.

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