Celebrating an accomplished change maker

Professor Amanda Barnard with Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt. Photo: Jamie Kidston, ANU Multimedia Team

Professor Amanda Barnard has a long history with The Australian National University (ANU). In fact, three generations of her family are linked to ANU as scholars and academics - making ANU, and the people within it, an important part of her family’s life.

On Tuesday evening, 23 November, Professor Barnard’s ANU family paid tribute to her significant contributions with the Chancellor's award for Distinguished Contribution to the University.

As Head of the Rural Clinical School from 2004 -2018, and again from 2020 after a short retirement, Professor Barnard has led the delivery of medical education in rural settings.

She is also Associate Dean, Rural and Indigenous Health at ANU Medical School, ensuring the best learning opportunities and experience for medical students, and positive outcomes for the rural and remote communities in which these students study, undertake clinical placements and research.

“It has been a privilege to be part of building something almost from scratch. The beauty of the Rural Clinical School is that it’s small, agile and flexible in approach. It has meant we’ve been able to do medical education differently, like trying new models for clinical placements and tailoring the educational experience for our students and the communities in which they live and work for a year,” Professor Barnard explained.

Education is not the only area in which this talented leader has made a mark. As a general practitioner (GP), Professor Barnard supports the health and wellbeing of the people in rural Braidwood, NSW and surrounding areas, where she practices.

“The most satisfying thing about being a GP is the relationships that are formed with patients and their families. It can often be a life-long relationship, and over the years a huge amount of trust is built between both parties.”

Having completed her training at a time when gender inequity was far too common, Professor Barnard has dedicated much time and energy to improving gender issues and supporting women in medicine. Her involvement with the World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) since 1998, is one of the roles where she has made a considerable impact in this area.

WONCA aims to help organisations that represent GPs (like the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners), and particularly organisations in less developed countries, to strengthen the role and the recognition of family medicine within their countries. The network includes 132 member organisations from 110 countries, with a membership of 500,000 family doctors.

As Chair of the WONCA Working Party on Women and Family Medicine from 2009 to 2013, Professor Barnard collaborated with female doctors from all over the world to achieve organisational change within WONCA and the development of gender equity standards for scientific meetings and conferences.

“The changes to the WONCA by-laws and the standards for meetings led to structural changes within the organisations that make up the WONCA network. This has opened opportunities for many female GPs allowing them to be involved in conferences, chair sessions and hold positions of leadership within their own organisations.”

“It’s sobering to learn about the gender equity challenges that some of these women doctors and their patients face in their countries. Knowing that the work we’ve collectively done to create change makes me very proud.”

For the outstanding contributions she has made to the organisation over the past 20 years, Professor Barnard will be recognised with a Fellowship award at this year’s WONCA Conference.

She’ll be in good company when she accepts the award and able to share the celebration with fellow Rural Clinical School colleague, Associate Professor Karen Flegg, who similarly will receive a Fellowship award for her exceptional service and dedication on the WONCA Executive, and as Editor of WONCA News.

Associate Professor Flegg, has also been announced as President-Elect and will take the reins of WONCA in October, 2023. Like Professor Barnard, she is setting her sights high and hopes to effect substantial change during her presidency.

“The vision of WONCA is to improve primary healthcare by supporting clinicians in general practice. If we can work towards achieving a family doctor for every family, we’ll be on the right track. Australia still has many communities where there is limited access to ongoing and consistent health care provided by a family doctor. We need to do better,” said Associate Professor Flegg.

ANU Medical School, Director, Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes said, “We couldn’t be prouder of these amazing leaders and the contributions they make to ANU through their working relationships and networks.”

“Professor Barnard has been a role model to many female students and doctors over the years. Her work with organisations like the Australian Medical Council (AMC) where she is involved with several committees, the International Primary Care Respiratory Group (IPCRG), The Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators (FRAME), and the National Asthma Council, to name just a few, demonstrate the reach, engagement and impact she has created during her career.”