Dr Robbie retires

January 11, 2018

It was in 1970 when a newly trained doctor named Peter Robinson chose to start his career in Deniliquin.

Since then Deniliquin has been his home, except for about two years living and working in England and a year training in obstetrics in Melbourne.

And while Deni will continue to be home for Dr Robinson and his wife Margaret, he finally retired completely as of December 31.

The soon-to-be 75 year-old — affectionately known to all as ‘Dr Robbie’ — has been a GP for 49 years.

In recent years he has been working only part-time and mainly administering geriatric health services.

He said he wanted to retire voluntarily before his future mental and physical condition forced him to, and that his retirement would mean more time with family and travelling.

‘‘Margaret and I like to travel, and we have a motorhome and would like to do some more,’’ he said.

‘‘One of the things we have enjoyed over the years is being able to help our children — Nick (46), Stephanie (44) and Sonya (42) — and having them nearby in Deniliquin has been great.

‘‘So we do intend to stick around in Deniliquin.’’

Having spent a few years living in Swan Hill with his family as a child, Dr Robinson said country medicine had always appealed once he decided to become a doctor.

He said the lifestyle he could enjoy in Deniliquin during his career was a deciding factor for his initial posting, and choosing to stay.

‘‘Being a country GP is very different to being a GP in the city,’’ Dr Robinson said.

‘‘A lot of GPs in the cities don’t work on a duty roster, and for most their day finishes at 5pm.

‘‘They also have more access to specialist trained doctors so don’t do as much surgery.

‘‘Luckily for us, we live just around the corner from the hospital. In the early days I used to cut through the yard of the home behind us to get to the hospital and maternity ward. It’s not that easy if you live in the city.

‘‘I looked at a number of towns before deciding on Deniliquin, where I thought Dr Fred Middleton would offer me the best experiences.’’

While he cannot recall when he chose to study medicine, Dr Robinson said he did show an aptitude for it at school.

He said his entry into the profession bucked the family trend.

‘‘All my family were in teaching — my parents and my siblings,’’ Dr Robinson said.

‘‘During the depression teaching was a very safe profession to get into, and that was always drummed into us.

‘‘After leaving Swan Hill we went to Melbourne, and I was lucky to go to the elite Melbourne High School. A lot of Melbourne high schools offered medicine in those days.

‘‘I certainly had the marks to do medicine and I think the idea at the time is that I wanted to be able to help people.

‘‘I was among the first class of medical students to attend what was then the new Monash University in Melbourne.’’

Dr Robinson studied for seven years — repeating his third year of medicine like many others in his class — before graduating in 1967 and spending his first year working at Melbourne’s Prince Henry’s Hospital.

His second year, as was a requirement, was spent rotating through different hospitals and aspects of medicine to ensure a grounding in all medical areas.

Dr Robinson was recruited to work in Deniliquin with Dr Middleton and Dr Jim Horton in 1970, and in 1971, with a bit more experience, he took his skills to England where he was a GP for two years.

When Dr Robinson and wife Margaret returned to Australia in 1973 he embarked on a 12-month course in obstetrics with the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne before returning to settle with his family in Deniliquin and returning to work with Dr Middleton.

‘‘I wasn’t too sure what to expect from being a country GP when I first came to Deniliquin, but I was able to learn a lot from Dr Middleton.

‘‘That type of learning on the job doesn’t really exist anymore; you have all your qualifications before you arrive.’’

It was during that time studying obstetrics that Dr Robinson was able to witness what he still says is one of the greatest medical advancements in his career.

‘‘Obstetrics has always been a bit of a challenge, but when I did my year in obstetrics at the Queen Victoria Hospital it was when epidurals were coming through.

‘‘Before that women were in labour for three or four days, and there were some deaths as a result of using general anaesthesia during birth.

‘‘It was a great thing to have the advent of pain relief for women, and learning those skills has stood me in good stead throughout my career.

‘‘As well as spinal anaesthetic, an epidural was effective, but you had to be careful how you used it.

‘‘Labour is a natural process — as it should continue to be — and in the ideal situation the pain was all part of the process. The pain during labour would be replaced by a wonderful sensation and sense of relief once the baby was born.

‘‘While the epidural does help to manage that pain, it also takes away from that wonderful feeling at the end, too.’’

Dr Robinson said the introduction of active labour management was also an important step in improving child birth. It set in place guidelines of when doctors should intervene if labour was taking too long, he said.

Overall, Dr Robinson said advancements in anaesthetics was a huge medical achievement, with previous options passing on unintended secondary health complications.

The prevalence of women in the medical profession also evokes some pride in Dr Robinson, who also says the role overseas trained doctors play in rural communities is of growing importance.

‘‘The overseas doctors’ model has been wonderful for country areas,’’ he said.

‘‘Australian graduates just don’t seem to want to come to the country anymore.

‘‘Medicine had changed since I graduated. Everything is specialised and computerised, but you can’t stop progress of course.

‘‘In Australia we have a pretty high expectation of services, and in these country areas the overseas doctors help fill a gap in that service.’’

In all the time Dr Robinson has helped with the joy of birth, assisted to relieve ailments and watched patients lose their battles with disease and the on-set of old age, he’s had the support of a loving family and community.

He particularly praises the role of his wife Margaret in allowing him to often prioritise others in the community.

‘‘My wife had to put up with a lot during my career,’’ he said.

‘‘I was away from home a lot of the time while we were trying to raise three children, and I’m sure she sometimes felt angry when I was dashing off while one of the children was crying, sick or needed something.

‘‘Margaret did quite a lot for the family, which I did not fully comprehend at the time.’’

Dr Robinson’s commitment to the health of the residents of his home town and in other areas was celebrated when he received an Order of Australia Medal in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

He was recognised for ‘‘service to medicine as a general practitioner in the Deniliquin region’’ with specific reference to his role at Deniliquin Hospital and medical staff committee meetings for many years, the Rural Bush Doctors Scheme, assisting to raise funds for the hospital and aged care facilities, assisting with community projects through various service clubs and being a mentor to medical students from Monash in Melbourne and the rural campus of the New South Wales universities.

However the self-deprecating Dr Robbie still insists he was only doing his job.

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