Farewell to a familiar face

13 August 2019

Dr Richard Medlicott has been a familiar face around the College office, on TV screens, on the radio and in the newspaper in recent times, but after three-and-a-half years serving as the College’s Medical Director, he has decided to step down from the role at the end of August to pursue other goals.

We caught up with Richard to find out what he’s enjoyed most about the role, what he will miss, and what he’ll be doing next:

“I have really enjoyed my time as Medical Director,” says Richard. “I’ve loved the variety and it’s been a privilege to represent GPs and advocate for general practice.

“One of the things I’ve really appreciated is the opportunity to learn more about how College operates, and to contribute to its policy decisions and public statements.

“Ironically, being the College Medical Director is similar to being a GP in a practice, because you never know what issues you’re going to have to deal with from one day to the next, and the variety keeps you on your toes.”

As Medical Director, Richard was the key media spokesperson for the College on clinical matters. While the topics were varied and sometimes unpredictable, he says he enjoyed responding to media queries - “you have to think fast and summarise succinctly”. Although he also admits he may not miss the morning TV appearances which require both an early start and a fresh face.

“The 6.45am live TV interview about antibiotic use, the morning after our annual conference started was a bit of struggle. But the media never rests, and the College staff and I made a big effort to be available so we could raise awareness about issues affecting GPs and their patients.

"I was particularly mindful to talk about general practice and the value of GPs, rather than referring simply to primary health care,” he says.

One of Richard’s initiatives was the book “A Day in the Life of a Kiwi GP” which was published ahead of World Family Doctor Day in 2018. Many members contributed, resulting in a wonderful example of the variety and depth of work delivered by our members every day.

Recent interviews about the need for “specialists” to sign off medicinal cannabis prescriptions provided an opportunity to remind the public that GPs are specialists – one Richard took full advantage of, as you can hear in this Radio New Zealand clip.

What you can’t tell from this interview is that he had to jump off his bike and stand in someone’s garage to be heard over a howling Wellington northerly, as he was in the middle of his morning commute when the journalist called!

In addition to his public-facing work, Richard also represented the College and its members on various committees and representative groups (such as the Health Quality and Safety Commission, and the Health Benefits of Good Work steering committee), interviewed internationally trained GPs entering New Zealand, advised on GP Pulse editorial content and medicolegal issues, and mentored College members who asked for assistance.

“I would strongly encourage my GP colleagues to get involved on representative groups if they can – it’s a great way to make a contribution, but I’ve also learnt a lot myself along the way. It’s useful for your own personal development.”

Ironically, it’s one of the fringe benefits of the job that’s taken Richard away from it. For years, no matter the weather, Richard has cycled between Island Bay (home to the GP practice he co-owns with five others) and the Wellington CBD so he could perform his Medical Director duties at the College. His passion for cycling has increased during this time, as have his two-wheeled ambitions.

In 2018 Richard competed in The Pioneer – a six-day mountain biking race through the Southern Alps – for the first time, and he’s keen to have another go at it. Although challenging (450km distance with a 15,000m climb), it seems this type of event is slightly addictive, and Richard has now got the bug.

In doing The Pioneer race, Richard is also raising funds and awareness for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). You can support his endeavours and the 20,000 people who suffer from ME by contributing to this Givealittle page.

Part of the decision to step back from the Medical Director role was the need to find more time during his busy week to get on his bike and train.

“I need to clock up about 15-20 hours a week between now and December to do this event well. To achieve this personal goal, I realised I’d have to adjust some of my professional commitments.

“After three and a half years as Medical Director of the College, which followed four previous years as Medical Director for Healthline, I felt like I’d done my time for now. 

“There has been a lot of change at the College in the past year, but with our new Chief Executive now on board, and a new strategic direction and business plan in place, I feel the College is in a really good place and there are steady hands on the tiller. I feel comfortable that now is an appropriate time for me to make my change.”

On behalf of everyone at the College, and all the members it represents, we’d like to thank Richard for his contribution as Medical Director, and wish him all the best for his cycling adventures.