IN 23 years working in general practice in Bathurst, Dr Hal Rikard-Bell has seen many changes - in both the city and the profession.
And Dr Rikard-Bell has been a driving force behind some of those changes, particularly the push for improved medical services as Bathurst has become one of the fastest growing cities in regional NSW.
But his time in Bathurst is just part of the story for a country-based GP who also spent 16 years looking after the 3300 residents of West Wyalong.
Now Dr Rikard-Bell's long service to rural health has been recognised with a Rural Medical Service Award presented by the NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN).
It has been the career I always hoped it would be, the joy, the challenge, the variety, and the immersion in the community.Dr Hal Rikard-Bell
The prestigious award recognises 35 years or more service to rural NSW communities and Dr Rikard-Bell is one of 14 outstanding GPs included in the latest crop of recipients.
Dr Rikard-Bell began his career working as a general practitioner and a visiting medical officer at Wyalong District Hospital before joining the Russell Street Medical Centre in Bathurst in 1996.
He has been a partner at RSMC for 24 years and a VMO at Bathurst Health Service for the past 20 years.
"I have been in NSW rural and country practice for 39 years, including 16 years in the small country town of West Wyalong, 500km west of Sydney, 3300 people in town and 6000 people in the district," Dr Rikard-Bell said. "Wagga Wagga was our closest base hospital, 160km away. It was a truly isolated rural general practice."
He said his time in Bathurst had been quite different, particularly in recent years.
"Regional city practice is now very different to genuine small country town practice, however for the first ten years here in Bathurst, it was much the same challenges," Dr Rikard-Bell said.
"There were deliveries, caesareans, anaesthetics, ED, as well as the consulting rooms.
"Here the growth has included the expansion of specialist hospital services and resident medical officers (RMOs), so hospital practice has much less GP involvement now.
"The small country town, however, still needs the frontline GP, and the GP proceduralist. There are plenty of those towns."
Dr Rikard-Bell said the life of a country GP had panned out much as he had hope while completing his degree.
"It has been the career I always hoped it would be - the joy, the challenge, the variety, and the immersion in the community," he said.
"There has been the ups and downs, and one must include the stoush with the Unsworth government in 1988-99 that led to the Rural Doctors Association.
"The RDN was also created soon after and has come along as a partner for the journey. It has been the right career for me. I think I made a contribution."
NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN) is a not-for-profit, non-government charitable organisation and is the Australian Government's designated Rural Workforce Agency (RWA) for health in NSW. RDN's vision is for "improved health service access for all Australians - no matter where they live".
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