Thank you, Dr Morris: Long-serving Parkes GP retires

WONDERFUL LIFE: Dr Stephen Morris has retired after 35 years as GP, obstetrician and general surgeon in Parkes.
WONDERFUL LIFE: Dr Stephen Morris has retired after 35 years as GP, obstetrician and general surgeon in Parkes.

Retiring after 35 years medical service to our community, Dr Stephen Morris reflects life as a country GP has been good to him.

From the birthing suite to the fracture clinic, skin cancers to coughs and earaches, being a doctor to generations of Parkes residents has been a wonderful career.

It's one that he'd whole-heartedly recommend to young doctors, or to school graduates considering medicine.

He can speak first-hand as someone who moved from city to country, with general surgery and obstetrics training in the UK in between, and never looked back.

Dr Morris joined Dr John Waddell, Doctors Ian and Annette Clement, and others at the Clarinda Street Medical Practice in November 1985.

He had his last official day at Ochre Medical Centre, which stands on the same site, on November 30.

"We we first arrived things were very different to what they are today: there was a much bigger hospital focus (for our GPs)," Dr Morris said.

There were 10 doctors in Parkes at the time and at any time nine out of 10 would have worked in the emergency department and on call; they could give an anaesthetic, deliver a baby, or remove an appendix.

The hours, he concedes, were extreme and it's certainly not the way things are done now.

But the diversity of the practice was one of the big drawcards.

"I really wanted to do procedures - I really wanted to do obstetrics, I wanted to do surgery, and I wanted to combine that with general practice," Dr Morris said.

"So a town of this size is probably the only place where you can do that properly.

"That's the way it was, that's what everyone did, and that was accepted but the hours were extreme," he acknowledged.

"My family supported that, my wife supported that, and I was very lucky for that to happen.

"I think there's a lot more commonsense now around the hours we work and should work and be safe."

The changes in medicine are too numerous to go through but generally there's been a big increase in screening to detect health issues earlier; there's also a greater reliance on nursing and allied health services in the average general practice surgery.

Most recently many of us have met Dr Morris in the fracture clinic and that is just one example of just how things have changed.

While our local doctors could always get a specialist orthopaedic surgeon on the phone to discuss a case with them, it was nothing like now.

"You used to actually post the x-rays down to them, you'd get a phone call a few days later," Dr Morris recalled.

"Today it's all on a screen, everything is instantaneous, they can look at the same image you're looking at."

Retrieval services to Orange and Sydney have improved dramatically in the intervening years, and the opening of the new Parkes hospital has been an incredible boost.

That's just one reason Dr Morris believes Parkes' future is bright: as a growth centre with great infrastructure this community has everything to offer the next generation of doctors.

"The new hospital is a great facility, we have two beautiful birthing rooms and great infrastructure," Dr Morris said.

"I really hope Parkes will be the place to birth for people this side of Orange, we just need the medical manpower and midwives."

The reasons behind the doctor shortage are many and varied.

"In my graduating year 50 per cent of doctors would have gone into general practice whereas now it's 15 per cent," Dr Morris said.

"That's a huge change and a tragedy really that more people don't do it, I guess there's lot of reasons for that."

Dr Morris believes a recent Federal Government initiative to cover the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) debts of medical students who work in rural and regional communities is one good move, but he also hopes people will be drawn to towns like Parkes because they're a great place to be.

"A lot of things have changed and you've got to change with that," he said.

"I think the best chance of doctors coming here is getting local graduates through medical schools."

He would recommend it to the next generation.

"It's been a wonderful life for me: interesting, fulfilling, exciting at times and very rewarding," he said.

"If you can do procedures, obstetrics, anaesthetics; if you can get involved in the hospital it's a greater range of activities you can pursue.

"I think that's what I've really enjoyed - the wide diversity of what you can do."

He adds there is also plenty of scope within a GP's career to gain new skills and direct your practice.

Whichever direction you take, communication is key, as is a solid work ethic.

"It's ever-going you have to keep reading, upgrading your skills, even in surgery skills will change, procedures will change," Dr Morris said.

So after a such an intense working life, how does the doctor intend to spend retirement?

Dr Morris reckons he might have left it a bit late to become a champion golfer, but he'll continue swimming, pushbike riding and walking the local tracks.

He and Rosemary are certainly looking forward to spending more time with their grandchildren.

Dr Morris thanked Rosemary and his family for their support; and paid tribute to his fellow doctors.

"To go and do a cesarean in the middle of the night and know there will be an anaesthetist at the end of the phone, that has been wonderful," he said.

"Thanks to David Harwood and John Gale for all those years.

"The practice staff have been incredibly supportive in rearranging the day when it had to be; and generally being a really happy place to work.

"I've been very fortunate in how supportive my colleagues and the practice have been."