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Activist in training

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 20 January 2014

Not so long ago, Dr Will Milford, like many people, was scared of speaking in public.

That may surprise anyone who was present at the AMA’s national conference last May when Dr Milford, in his capacity as co-chair of the AMA Council of Doctors-in-Training (AMACDIT), rose to address the delegates.

The topic was the then Labor government’s plan to introduce a $2000 cap on tax deductions for work-related self-education expenses — and it was Dr Milford’s job to convince the floor to back a motion to call for the scrapping of the proposal.

It didn’t take long to get unanimous backing from the room and the campaign to “Scrap the Cap” came to fruition when the Coalition government dumped the policy in early November last year.

“It was a huge campaign and a massive success”, Dr Milford tells the MJA.

“It was never a particularly bright policy, but Scrap the Cap was a great example of engagement [by the medical community] and it paid off.”

Now the immediate past chairman of AMACDIT — he stepped out of the chair at the end of 2013 — Dr Milford has had time to reflect on his 18-month stint on the frontline of medico-political activism and its worth to him as a doctor.

“I’d never been active politically until I started obstetrics and gynaecology training in a large department at a tertiary hospital”, Dr Milford says.

“That gave me the opportunity of seeing how things weren’t working — rostering, etc. Then when I was a registrar I became a training representative with RANZCOG [Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists].

“I did that for a few years before becoming chair of Doctors-in-Training.”

Political activism may not be for everyone, but Dr Milford feels it has made him a better doctor.

“From an intellectual perspective it’s very satisfying”, he says.

“It’s made me a better doctor, certainly. It increases awareness, exposes you to the issues and gives you a skill set you can’t get [elsewhere].

“It’s made me more effective as an advocate for patients and really empowers you to be able to do that in other spheres.

“I’ve always had a fear of public speaking. Being involved politically has very much helped me with that.”

Born in Melbourne, Dr Milford and his family, including four siblings, moved to Emu Park, near Yeppoon in north Queensland.

After high school he returned to Melbourne to do his MB BS at Monash University and graduated in 2004.

“I then did two years prevocational training at the Alfred”, he says.

His father, Edward, is an obstetrician and general practitioner, but it was never a foregone conclusion that Will would follow in his footsteps.

It was a stint in obstetrics at Mater Mothers Hospital in Brisbane that convinced him O & G was the specialty for him.

The internship crisis of 2012–2013 was a major battle for both the AMACDIT and the Australian Medical Students’ Association.

With the number of medical graduates growing (1660 in 2000 to 3028 in 2011, with 486 more in 2012), and insufficient intern places available, the goal of medical students to enter their “dream specialty” has become less attainable.

“Getting a specialty training position is on everyone’s mind”, Dr Milford says.

“In the 18 months [of my chairmanship] the issue has shifted from not enough intern spots to enough spots but not everyone getting their first choice of specialty or where they want to work.

“How do we create the demand in junior doctors for specialties that are undersubscribed? Why, for example, do we need so many cardiologists?

“There is increasing awareness [among students] about their career choices. They need to consider the realities of getting a job in their “dream specialties”.

“We need to look at shifting the way we deliver medical education in the prevocational years.”

Clearly, 18 months running AMACDIT hasn’t blunted Dr Milford’s passion for activism, but for now he’s concentrating on his career.

Next month he begins work as a private obstetrician at Mater Mothers in Brisbane, three days a week, and as a staff specialist at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital two days a week.

“Politically, I won’t be doing much for a while”, he says.

“I’d like to stay involved with RANZCOG. With the AMA, I’ll wait and see.”

Watch this space. It’s a fair bet Will Milford won’t keep his head below the parapets for long.

  • Cate Swannell


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