Getting to know Jenny May

Earlier this month UON’s Dr Jenny May was named Telstra RDAA Rural Doctor of the Year in recognition of her contribution to rural health on a local, regional and national scale.

Jenny was one of the University of Newcastle’s early medical students –  graduating in 1985, and she participated in the course’s first regional rotation in Tamworth. Jenny is now Clinical Dean of UON’s Department of Rural Health, supporting 32 medical students studying at the Peel Clinical School in Tamworth.

We caught up with Jenny, who tells us about her pathway to rural medicine, and her passion for the rural communities in which she works.

Tell us about your background, including what drew you into medicine? 

I was lucky enough to be in the third intake to the University of Newcastle in 1980. I came to Tamworth as part of the first regional rotation in 1982. After graduating and working in Sydney, I commenced senior medical terms in Tamworth in 1986.

Whilst I was born and bred in Sydney my rural origin is actually spousal rural origin as I married the man of my dreams in third year. Since he hailed from Armidale it was natural to head north and forge a career in rural general practice.

In 1997 we headed to WA working in small rural and remote communities .We returned to Tamworth in 2003 but then were lucky enough to work in Canada in a native Indian community for 12 months. I commenced work with the University of Newcastle rural clinical school in 2004, assisting in the foundation of Peel Health Care, a community owned not-for-profit general practice, and have worked in medical education and general practice ever since.

What’s been the most unexpected aspect of your work so far? 

The need to move from the clinical and patient focus to the system and policy focus. Initially it was a big leap – now I try and think why it is so, and then work from there. Understanding the drivers and levers in health care helps you work out how to get things done.

Do you draw on any people or resources for inspiration?

I draw on colleagues. Rural Health is full of hard working committed clinicians. It is a privilege to work with them.

I can drive into almost any large regional town in Australia and have some knowledge of the committed workers in any number of disciplines. Being a member of the National Rural Health Alliance for 12 years has been a big part of that.

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What are you passionate about? Can others in the community get involved?

I am passionate about the welfare and livability of rural communities – I love the social connectedness of living in a regional or rural community. I have been lucky enough to advocate on behalf of the health needs and social determinants with the vision that our health outcomes even up with those in metropolitan Australia.

I am passionate about the great opportunity I get to inspire and support the next generation of doctors and allied health professional s for rural. I ask them to take a piece of us wherever they go and we will keep a little piece of them and their involvement with us.

What’s been your proudest achievement to date?

My proudest achievement is three happy, healthy young people who have shared the medical adventure with us growing up in a number of small communities, learning language and learning about living as cultural minorities. They are now making their own way in the world and are great people to be with.

What would be your dream project?

To have the resources to support the integrated care that can be and should be provided in rural communities. We can provide first rate care.

Welcome to Tamworth


Can you name a local hero?

Tony Windsor is but one local hero. He believed in rural Australia and in trying to bring broadband to all of Australia for the same wholesale cost, recognising that it was the connectivity that would reduce the urban rural divide.

What do you look forward to doing most in Tamworth in summer?

I love sitting out in the evening when the gully breeze comes in and cools the land-it’s the best feeling.

And winter?

I love the sunny winters – crisp in the morning and then sunny and warm through the window. I love the term ‘big sky country’ –it so is!

Where and what was the last greatest meal you had in Tamworth?

The last greatest meal was a BBQ where we had a whole lot of medical and allied health students. We had rissoles and a bun and watched the sun set. The students were playing basketball with an admiring entourage of kangaroos looking on!

Best place to getaway to?

I love Melbourne. Its everything rural is not – crowded, complicated and the home of sport.

Your #1 Tamworth insiders tip?

Join in! There is lots of sport and things to do.

I walk up the lookout every morning and claim the day! Free aerobic exercise!

Bingara River

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