Zimbabwe to Kerikeri with aroha: GP’s requited love affair with rural health

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Zimbabwe to Kerikeri with aroha: GP’s requited love affair with rural health

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Renene and Grahame Jelley
Grahame Jelley with wife and rural nurse Renene Jelley

We are on our summer break and the editorial office is closed until 17 January. In the meantime, please enjoy our Summer Hiatus series, an eclectic mix from our news and clinical archives and articles from The Conversation throughout the year. This article was first published in the 12 May edition

Zahra Shahtahmasebi reports on the GP who made this year’s rural conference dinner an emotional occasion

The essence of New Zealand is in those salt-of-the-earth rural people... I would've wilted and died in the cities

Overwhelmed and honoured to receive the Peter Snow Memo­rial Award, Kerikeri GP Gra­hame Jelley had to cut his acceptance speech short to avoid becoming a “blubbering mess”.

Receiving the award during the Na­tional Rural Health Conference dinner on 30 April was a very emotional time, Dr Jelley later told New Zealand Doctor Rata Aotearoa.

He was pleased to share the moment with his wife, Renene, who he describes as “a great rural nurse” and his rock through hard times.

Many tears were shed on his behalf, including by Mrs Jelley, who was com­forted by previous recipient of the med­al, nurse practitioner Tania Kemp, seated at the same table.

Dr Jelley was also afforded a tradi­tional congratulation from a fellow conference attendee, from his home country of Zimbabwe.

He says he has been reflecting on pre­vious recipients, particularly fellow GPs Martin London and Tim Malloy, who were mentors for him when he first ar­rived in New Zealand, “wet behind the ears”, from Zimbabwe.

“To be seen and stood up in the same acknowledgement as them… the words ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘privileged’ come to mind immedi­ately,” he says.

Landing on New Zealand’s West Coast in 2000, Dr and Mrs Jelley en­countered Ms Kemp, who became a mentor for her nurse friend.

“That’s the thing about rural commu­nities, they’re a close-knit society.”

After working rurally for over 30 years, Dr Jelley says rural communities have one major commonality.

“I went from working in Zimbabwe with salt-of-the-earth people, to the West Coast, with salt-of-the-earth [rural] people, and the same in Bay of Plenty and Northland. The essence of New Zealand is in those people…I would’ve wilted and died in the cities.”

The award has also come during a journey of personal health challenges for Dr Jelley, “When you are being chal­lenged by the unknown ahead of you, to know that your contribution has been meaningful makes that load far easier to bear.”

So at this particular time, he says it was uplifting.

Nominated by nursing colleague

He was nominated for the award by Northland nurse-practitioner colleague Rhoena Davis, who writes that Dr Jelley is a man of high moral standards, with a kind and supportive manner to­wards the staff he works with and the patients he cares for.

Dedicated to rural practices and with a keen interest in te ao Māori, Dr Jelley has undertaken a personal journey to learn and be part of the tikanga and kawa (protocol, etiquette) of Te Tai To­kerau, and has a commitment to sup­porting and advancing Māori health outcomes, Ms Davis says.

She writes that she has had the priv­ilege of working with him within rural general practice, as well as on other in­itiatives addressing maternal health.

Dr Jelley also worked closely with the late Janet Mahoney, the first Māori nurse practitioner.

Dr Jelley’s 21-year career in New Zea­land’s rural health sector started as a DHB-employed GP in Buller.

From there, he and his family spent 12 years in the Bay of Plenty, before moving to the Bay of Islands, where he is now based at The Doctors Kerikeri.

He spends three days a week in gen­eral practice, and two to three days in clinical leadership with the PHO, Mah­itahi Hauora.

He is northern North Island repre­sentative for the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, the confer­ence hosts. And he formerly held lead­ership roles with West Coast PHO, Eastern Bays Primary Health Alli­ance and the Bay of Plenty DHB.

New Zealand Rural General Practice Network chair Fiona Bolden awards the Peter Snow Memorial Award to Grahame Jelley
Amazing opportunities

Every rural community he and his family have lived in has been special in its own way.

“West Coast is very close to our hearts, because we were welcomed, and well looked after there, but it’s hard to compare with the utopia of sailing out into the Bay of Islands, and the Bay of Plenty for its immersion into Māori [culture]. They’ve all been completely different experiences,” he says.

He highlights the amazing opportu­nities New Zealand has afforded his family. “My kids were young children when we came here and they are now well-balanced young adults, making their way in a busy world. There is no better highlight than that.”

The award was given for Dr Jelley’s contribution to rural communities and his dedication and service to rural health. It is made every year, in honour of the late Peter Snow, who was an RN­ZCGP president and Tapanui GP com­mitted to rural health education.

Dr Jelley’s journey in medicine began at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 1983. He then worked in a mission hospital, and regional rural hospital services, until he met and mar­ried Renene, also from Zimbabwe.

The pair returned to their home country, where there was a compulsory five-year rural bonding scheme, and moved to a solo general practice in Chipinge, “a very small isolated town on the eastern border”.

“Over the next seven years, we took that solo general practice, and turned it into a small hospital, with full in-patient and obstetric facilities. It was a great experience to work closely with a community to build infrastructure to support that community.

“We delivered a bunch of community babies, even my own son.”

At that small clinic, Dr Jelley also de­livered a baby whose mother would re­main a friend of the family and end up living in New Zealand.

Annatjie Pretorius, now a nurse prac­titioner at Hastings Hospital, was seat­ed at his table at the conference dinner and added to the appreciative smiles, applause and celebrations.

Peter Snow Memorial Award

Mātanga tapuhi (nurse practitioner) Tania Kemp – 2020
GP John Burton – 2019
GP Keith Buswell – 2018
GPs Chris Henry and Andrea Judd – 2017
GP Ivan Howie and nurse Leonie Howie – 2016
GP Katharina Blattner – 2015
Nurse Kim Gosman and GP Janne Bills – 2014
GP Graeme Fenton and New Zealand Institute of Rural Health chief executive Robin Steed – 2013
Nurse Kirsty Murrell-McMillan – 2012
GP Martin London – 2011
GP Tim Malloy – 2010
GP Garry Nixon – 2009
Nurse Jean Ross and GP Pat Farry – 2008
Inaugural winner GP Ron Janes – 2007


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