SWAN Hill doctor Mike Moynihan has received a prestigious award for his practice of medicine in the Mallee region.
Dr Moynihan was named as the recipient of the 2017 Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine - Rural Doctors Association of Australia (ACRRM-RDAA) Peter Graham 'Cohuna' Award at the annual Rural Medicine Australia conference in Melbourne on October 20.
Dr Moynihan has had a long and varied medical career, working in Africa and Papua New Guinea before setting his sights on the Mallee.
The award is the highest that can be awarded by the rural doctor community and was given jointly by the ACRRM-RDAA in recognition of the highest quality of service during many decades.
Dr Moynihan admitted working regionally had its challenges, and with more than 30 years of experience in this region, he had seen these (challenges) come and go.
But, easy or not, the high quality practice of medicine in regional areas is not only something that can be done, but should be done, he said.
"It is the necessity to provide a good standard of medicine with few resources," Dr Moynihan said.
"The ability to practice good quality medicine has steadily increased, while the availability of trained doctors has been steadily on the decrease."
Serving nine years as the president of the Rural Doctors Association of Victoria, Dr Moynihan has been heavily involved in attempts to address the doctor shortage.
This has included training medical students locally and undertaking frequent trips to Melbourne to meet with ministers to try and prevent the closure of medical services.
Dr Moynihan said a career in medicine was decided early on, but his interest in rural medicine started in Africa and Papua New Guinea.
"My father was a doctor, it was a family thing. When I left school I went to East Africa and volunteered for a year and worked for the Rural Flying Doctor Service," he said.
His time in Papua New Guinea was anything but easy.
His first posting had three doctors working to service a 180-bed hospital.
A move to Laigam a year later didn't ease the burden, with the area requiring a doctor to cover 60,000 people.
"A colleague of mine who is still on the hospital board here, John Christie, ignited my interest in Wycheproof.
He said they were looking for a practicing generalist doctor.
"I was reaching the end of my time in Papua New Guinea and had a long held interest in Victoria and in the practice of regional medicine," Dr Moynihan said.
Making the move with his wife and fellow medical practitioner, Amber, Dr Moynihan stayed for three years.
"I was the sole practicing doctor in Wycheproof. It was interesting, it meant being on call continuously, except when I could get locum doctors in town. There were local doctors in other towns, like Birchip, but it meant patients had to travel," he said.
The next move for the Moynihans was the Bush Nursing Hospital at Nyah West, where they remained for another 10 years.
Relocating to Swan Hill in 1999, here Dr Moynihan spent the last 18 years before "finally retiring".
He was also the sole prescriber of methadone for the Swan Hill region for a number of years.
This was not an easy role as it came with the significant commitment to the ongoing welfare of patients who relied on this treatment.
Coming across a number of opiate addicted patients in Nyah West, Dr Moynihan said he took a course in prescribing methadone as an opiate replacement and started practicing.
"The number of patients gradually built up until we had around 80 patients and then that decreased again. We did have quite a few people we managed to help get off opiates," he said.
Upon retiring, Dr Moynihan said there were around 60 methadone patients left who were taken over by a nurse prescriber.
"It's very important for a small town like this. There are individuals who have trouble staying out of trouble and who can be helped and we should be helping them," he said.
All up, Dr Moynihan worked for more than 30 years to provide general practice and hospital care for Swan Hill and the surrounding communities.
Dr Moynihan said he was very honoured to receive the recognition of his work and added working in regional and rural medicine was not just about clinical practice.
"You don't just do medicine at a rural practice, you help people a lot. There is also this whole question of organising the rural workforce," he said.
"It means creating structures and rural training and organisations...it requires an additional amount of work with rural doctors associations to do these things."
To read more stories about amazing people in our region, grab a copy of the Wednesday edition of The Guardian.