Community Service Medal recipients showcase why GPs are the heart of healthcare

24 July 2023

Category: Media releases


Six specialist general practitioners from around Aotearoa New Zealand have been awarded Community Service Medals at GP23: the Conference for General Practice.

Nominated by their peers, this award recognises members of the College who have made an outstanding contribution to general practice through work in their communities.

College President Dr Samantha Murton says, “I’m always in awe when I hear how GPs and rural hospital doctors around the motu are going above and beyond to serve their communities.

“Whether it’s through providing knowledge and experience to our newest GPs or advocating for patients ensuring the support and care they require is delivered, these recipients truly are the heart of their communities, and very deserving of this award.”

This year’s recipients of the Community Service Medal are:

Dr Penny Henley | Hawkes Bay

Dr Henley has been a GP and a medical educator in Taradale, Hawkes Bay, for many years, caring for her local community and teaching the next generation of general practitioners.

She is a tireless advocate for her patients, particularly those in aged residential care.

Within the College, Dr Henley has represented the Hawkes Bay GP community on the National Advisory Council (NAC) ensuring the views of her peers across the region are heard. She has also been Chair of the Hawkes Bay Faculty.

Dr Henley says, “I am thrilled to be nominated for this award and honoured that it comes from my peers. None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support from my husband, children, friends, and the entire staff at the practice.”

Dr Louise Poynton | Wellington

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Poynton’s contribution as Tū Ora Medical Director made an enormous difference for the greater Wellington practices who were managing the frontline COVID-19 response. This included distribution of rapid antigen tests (RAT), clinical staff redeployment and advocacy.

Dr Poynton showed tenacity and leadership in sharing guidance from the Ministry of Health into clear, concise, practical information for practices. Her clinical leadership and management efforts directly contributed to the region being one of the leaders in managing wellbeing for the community during this time.

Dr Claire Russell | Waikato

Dr Russell is an experienced primary care clinician having worked within both rural and urban practice, as well as urgent care. Strong advocacy for the sector and patients has led Dr Russell into several clinical directorship roles, clinical governance and mentoring.

She was Clinical Director of Waikato’s COVID-19 directorate helping to lead the pandemic response across the region. She played a significant role in the development and implementation of the primary care component of the “Waikato Way”, a Manaaki-first, equity and whānau-based pandemic response, supporting our priority, rural and diverse populations in a way that suited their needs.

Dr Russell was a member of the first all-woman crewed racing yacht “Maiden” in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race and her story features in the 2018 documentary, “Maiden”.

When looking back on her career to date, Dr Russell says, “I’ve been privileged to work with incredible teams over the years, and the teamwork involved in our response to the pandemic was no exception. Amazing people with a common goal who are all invested in their community, working together to get the job done.”

Dr Bob Stephens | Hawkes Bay

Dr Stephens recently retired as a GP teacher, but still works as a dedicated GP in Waipukurau. During his time as a teacher, he gave GP registrars a valuable experience of rural general practice and of the complexities involved in this field of medicine.

In 2022 he was awarded the Kaumatua award at the Hawkes Bay Faculty Primary Care Awards in recognition his service to his community.

One former registrar said of Dr Stephens, “working with Bob I truly understood that having the medical knowledge was only ever going to be one part of the job. He would take time to explain why a patient was presenting a certain way as he would know about their life. He understood the whanau and whenua so he could understand the person – not just the patient.

“That understanding is what makes general practice the impactful branch of medicine.”

Dr Rex Yule | North Canterbury

Dr Yule has been a rural GP in North Canterbury area for 41 years. Based at his own practice in Amberley he provided twenty-four-hour, seven day a week cover for his patients for the first 30 years until an after-hours service was introduced.

He has worked with the St John's ambulance service and PRIME, regularly attending emergency calls for farm and vehicle accidents, and he generously assisted solo colleagues with weekend and locum cover in surrounding rural areas.

Previously, Dr Yule worked as a locum on the Chatham Islands and with the flying doctor service based at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia for six-months. He has also been involved in virology research with clinicians from New Zealand and the USA based in Antarctica.

He has contributed over 40 years of sharing his wisdom and medical knowledge as a GP teacher in his general practice to well over 300 young doctors, many of whom have chosen general practice as their specialty.

Dr Verne Smith | Central Otago

Dr Smith has been a solo GP in the small Central Otago town of Ranfurly for 33 years. During this time, he has hosted medical students and trainee interns, some of whom have chosen to specialise in general practice themselves.

He is dedicated to his patients and has put in many long hours to ensure they receive the best care possible.

GP23: the Conference for General Practice runs from 21-23 July in Auckland.