Australia Day Honours: Dr Romney Newman OAM

DRAWN to the Mid North Coast for its professional opportunities and sport, Dr Romney Adair Newman has dedicated his life to improving outcomes for rural patients.

His dedication to medicine and the community were acknowledged with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM), announced as part of the Australia Day Honours List on Sunday.

Dr Newman spent much of his professional life in Taree, but now lives in Forster in semi-retirement.

He credits his mother with inspiring him to pursue a career in medicine. Growing up in India, his mother would have loved to be a doctor herself, but could not afford the training. Instead she became a teacher and instilled in all her four children the importance of education.

The family moved to Australia when Dr Newman was three-years-old. As a child, he was further inspired by the adventurous tales of 'The Jungle Doctor', stories written by Australian doctor Paul White about life in Africa.

Dr Newman grew up in Maitland, where his father worked as a manager of a cotton mill and his mother was employed as a teacher of music and home economics at Maitland Girls High School. He attended Sydney University on a Common wealth scholarship and began his training as a doctor.

"If I did not get that scholarship, I do not think I would have been able to become a doctor," he said.

"If I was not a doctor, I probably would have been a PE teacher, and I wouldn't have been very good at that."

At Sydney University, he met his wife Christine, who was studying at teachers' college, and they have been married 47 years, had four children and now have 13 grandchildren. It is to Christine and his family that the OAM should have been presented, Dr Newman said, as being a doctor in a regional area was a drain on family time and their support had been vital.

Dr Newman recalls once arriving home to find that his wife had planned a surprise birthday party for him, only to have to run out again straight away back to work as usual.

After completing his exams working in Sydney hospitals, Dr Newman was a locum doctor in Rockhampton in 1971.

After initially joining a group practice in Taree in 1972, he quickly started his own practice as a specialist general physician (specialising in diseases of the internal organs).

Dr Newman wanted to work in a regional area not only for the opportunities it offered for a budding specialist but for the sport.

"I want to go somewhere they played lots of cricket and hockey," he said.

Alongside his busy work as specialist and honorary medical officer for the region, Dr Newman advocated for the introduction of a specialist coronary care unit for Taree hospital. At that time, patients recovering from coronary issues were housed in intensive care, which he said was not the right environment for their recovery.

"It involved training nurses and staff, new monitoring equipment and creating a nice atmosphere for people," he said.

In 1996, Dr Newman was drawn to Forster for the lifestyle and the opportunities provided by the growing population for his private practice.

He was a visiting physician to Forster hospital from 1996-2013, and maintains his private practice and work as a consultant with the Taree and Forster Aboriginal Medical Centres. He semi-retired in 2011.

Outside his professional life, Dr Newman has been heavily involved in ecumenical church programs, including the Kairos Prison Ministry Program and the Walk to Emmaus program. Kairos is an international program aiming to help those in the prison system and involved running courses for inmates.

Dr Newman said he was inspired by the bible verse from Matthew, stating 'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me'.

"That was inspiration for me, because the other ones are easy you can just give money or donate something but visiting people in jail has more to it. There is fear there as well," he said.

He maintains his involvement, along with his wife Christine, visiting prisoners in Kempsey once a month.

"The courses we run are mainly about choices and talking about forgiveness of others and yourself. This is run around the world, and the re-entry rate of people who have done this course is much improved."

Dr Newman was a lay preacher, mentor and elder of the Taree Uniting Church for many years, is currently on the board of the Princess Charlotte Alopecia Foundation, has been a patron of Great Lakes Library and founded a support group for separated and bereaved parents that ran in Forster from 1990-2006.

Sport and the activities he had outside his practice were an important part of being a regional doctor, Dr Newman said.

"It helps your patients see you as a human being, and I've made good friends," he said.

It also helped, to see the doctor who was telling you to get out and exercise to help prevent diabetes hitting the cricket oval, the hockey pitch and nowadays, the tennis court.

"It has been a privilege to be a doctor in this area, and I have had good people to work with, which has made it all easier," he said.

"There is no other job I would have rather done."

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