Award winner 2012 - Bruce Chater

In the 2011 floods, when the small community of Theodore became the first ever to be entirely evacuated in Queensland, veteran rural GP, Dr Bruce Chater, was one of the last to leave.

This year, at the national Rural Medicine Australia 2012 conference in Fremantle, Dr Chater was honoured with the ACRRM-RDAA Peter Graham ‘Cohuna’ award, recognising his dedication to his community for the past 30 years.

Responding to the announcement, Dr Chater said that his dedication to his community was one side of a two-sided pact. “While I look after people’s health, they have always looked after me and my family,” he said. “There is a real respect for our privacy and our need to occasionally take time out. They are very protective and give us the space we need to live as ordinary members of the community.”

For six months after the January 2011 floods, Dr Chater’s practice bulk-billed all patients so no one had to worry about paying gaps. “People were traumatised by the event, then had to deal with their insurance and other paperwork. We wanted to at least simplify going to the doctor,” he said.

Dr Chater, who has advanced skills in obstetrics, surgery, anaesthetics and emergency medicine, is described by colleagues as the classic rural generalist — the ‘doc of all trades’.

He said that the support and generosity of his local community and rural doctors around Australia also caused him to re-learn a valuable lesson. “We had to learn again to receive and to do it gracefully,” he explained.

“As a doctor you can easily slip into a mindset of thinking that you are always the dispenser of help and advice and everyone else is a receiver. After the floods, we had donations of equipment and other practical support and suddenly became the ones saying ‘thank you’”.

Dr Chater said that, as was the case with the late Dr Graham, his wife is even more engaged in the community than he is. “Anne is the practice manager and is deeply involved in many of the community organisations in the district,” Dr Chater said. “We arrived here 30 years ago, just after our honeymoon, and we’ve raised four boys. It’s gratifying to reflect on how Theodore has become such a significant part of our family history.”