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National Conference a timely celebration of the AMA

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The AMA National Conference was held over the last weekend of May in Canberra with the theme Global Practice: Australian Perspective.

As the Conference followed soon after the Federal Budget, there was plenty of opportunity for delegates to discuss the impact of the Budget during one of the plenary sessions.

The debate on the Budget and its impacts followed presentations by both Health Minister Peter Dutton and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King. Delegates had a plethora of questions to put to the speakers.

Following the official opening by outgoing AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, the keynote address was delivered by the United States Ambassador to Australia, John Barry, who provided an entertaining overview of the US Government’s strategies to address global and domestic health challenges.

The Conference theme was evidenced in several of the plenary sessions, ranging from variation in medical practice to global health vocational training. As part of this, a panel featuring medical association leaders from countries in Africa, Asia and Britain explored regional challenges in medical practice. Dr Margaret Mungherera, President of the World Medical Association and a practising psychiatrist, brought home the reality of access to medical services for many in the world when she pointed out that in her home country of Uganda there is one psychiatrist to every million people!

Amid the serious work of the Conference, there was also much to celebrate, including the admission of three distinguished members – Dr Alex Markwell, Dr Stephen Parnis, and Dr Stephen Wilson – to the AMA Roll of Fellows. At the Conference dinner the rarely-awarded AMA Gold Medal was presented to Dr Mukesh Haikerwal for his outstanding services to the medical profession and to the community. Dr Hambleton presented the President’s Award to the family of Dr Bernard Quin, a Victorian doctor who paid for his devotion to his patients with his life, executed by Japanese troops occupying Nauru during the Second World War. Dr Quin was presented as an exemplar of all those doctors who have given their lives for their patients. Dr Quin’s large family attended what was a very moving ceremony.

Among other highlights of the weekend were the adoption of a new AMA Constitution at the Annual General Meeting by an overwhelming majority of members and to acclamation of the meeting. This significant step forward in the governance of the AMA provides the opportunity for more effective processes to develop strategy and policy, with greater engagement with members. More on this to come.

On the last morning of the Conference there was a very challenging plenary session on the demands of caring for those who serve in combat. The military theme ran through the Conference with Dr Brendan Nelson, now Director of the Australian War Memorial, as the entertaining guest speaker at the Leadership Development Dinner.

The Conference concluded with the election of the President and Vice President which took place under the new Constitution. The outcome of the voting was the election of Associate Professor Brian Owler as President and Dr Stephen Parnis as Vice President. With the induction of the new office bearers and a fitting tribute to outgoing President Dr Steve Hambleton, the Conference came to an emotional but satisfying close.