Building bridges and walking the talk – Dr John Crimmins

A real leader and bridge builder will make their first step being to make sure your own backyard is in order before talking about how others backyards should look. This is leading by example and putting deeds ahead of words. People will listen to this kind of builder.

Usually as GPs, partners, parents or siblings we are so busy that we easily slip into that pool of being in the silent majority when it comes to voicing opinions on a public forum. But this does not make each of us any less a leader or follower.

Within our own spheres we are constantly working to be the best person we can be and support others in that same endeavor. We do this by creating trust in others by sometimes following and sometimes leading.

As a 6th generation Australian I have a generational distrust of the person who says they are the leaders as they are usually the ones telling the rest of us to jump over a trench while they sit back and take the glory. Also being a second migrant my other imprint is that in working hard you can do better for yourself and therefore others.

Together the collective wisdom is if all of us equally pull together we can make the world we want and help others do the same. No talk of leaders but each of us building our castles. Leaders in our own backyards. A bit like that bloke from the iconic movie “The Castle”.

As GPs our castle includes our patients and the huge ripples they touch when they need our help. Each GP is the keeper of their own castle and we must trust this is done to the best of their abilities.

This trust is the mark of a great leader. The poor leader has no trust in the individual and instead feels they must make decisions on their behalf. These poor self-appointed leaders tend to be attracted to committees and organisations that further alienate the individual GP and creates even bigger gaps of actual meaningful cohesive profession.

To build bridges between all these castles requires an active collaboration. The issue remains that collaboration does involve trust and talking (really talking) and listening to each other.

In my own past I was lucky to see two prime examples where trust transforms each individual into a cohesive unit that actually gets results. The only way to get a response from organisations in the modern world is a level of direct and honest confrontation as a way to talk and have a conversation. This has been historically proven through the positive collective bargaining as perfected by the unions.

The first incident was involvement in the RDN NSW GP strike in 1987 in my first of eight years as a procedural GP in remote rural Dorrigo. This first ever GP strike was individual GPs trusting each other in doing what was best for our patients and acting as a very honest but forceful group. We collectively won and this changed the face of rural General Practice for the next 20 years.

I was also lucky enough in 2000 to be shop steward for the RACGP branch of the NTEU (a union for Medical educators and staff of the RACGP) when we first lost training to regional providers. With the help of the NTEU we successfully negotiated a severance package for RACGP staff.

The result is well documented in causing a big black hole in The RACGPs coffers as it was naïve in how it treated its own employees who had bought GP training ahead huge leaps and bounds. We won because we acted as one, held together by mutual trust in each other and guided by a professional union.

So the word bridge building infers an action and some words and as with any building it requires sweat. Walking the talk. But most of all working together in each laying the blocks and fully trusting in the equal abilities of those working with us.

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