The 15th Australian Military Medicine Association scientific conference was held in conjunction with the Defence Health Service conference at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 19th to the 22nd of October 2006.
The genesis of the concept of a joint conference occurred in the latter part of 2005 when discussions occurred between the Head Defence Health Services, Air Vice Marshal Tony Austin RAAF, and the President of the Association, Dr Russ Schedlich. An appropriate management plan and cost- and risk-sharing arrangement was developed and agreed and this allowed planning of the conference to progress expeditiously, with management and secretarial support being provided by the Association’s Secretariat.
Under the guidance of Organising and Scientific Committees, the conference rapidly developed into a four-day event with over 130 papers being presented by a variety of international and Australian speakers.
Over 570 delegates attended the conference, with representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, the People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.
The conference was honoured by the presence of the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP, Minister for Defence, who gave a very personal and inspirational speech covering the historical and contemporary commitment of health professionals in supporting military personnel who are deployed to operations, as well as providing disaster and humanitarian relief when called upon to do so. Dr Nelson’s speech was warmly received by the delegates
with a standing ovation. Dr Nelson also indicated that he would accept an invitation by the President to become a member of the Association, recognising his unique position as a health practitioner and the executive head of the Defence Force.
Through the course of the subsequent four days, delegates were addressed in plenary and concurrent sessions by Australian and international keynote
speakers as well as others who had researched and put together papers.
The Association was honoured to have the annual Australian Defence Force Nurses Conference held in conjunction with the event, and accordingly there was a significance contribution by the ADF nursing profession. Keynote presentations were made by Professor Mary Chiarella from the University of Technology Sydney and Professor Judy Lumby the President of the National College of Nursing.
Another significant theme running through the conference was that of mental health.
The psychological impact of both combat and humanitarian relief operations are only now coming to be widely recognised and accepted. Papers presented at the conference covered the historical aspects of these conditions, covering also contemporary practices and looking to the future. The heavy burden of psychological illness on veterans from recent war was elucidated and discussed.
Keynote speakers covering mental health issues included Professor Harry Holloway from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the United States, Prof Lars Weisaeth from the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress, and Professor Sandy McFarlane from the Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health.
Another key theme running through the conference was leadership. This issue was addressed by the Head Defence Health Services, Tony Austin, as well as the Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Graeme Shirtley. Other contributors included the former President of the
Australian Medical Association, Dr Bill Glasson.
Thought provoking papers were also delivered on matters around the health workforce in supporting ADF operations as well as the challenges that face Defence and the community in redesigning the health workforce and models of care to meet health care needs, and addressing the age-old tension between the medical and nursing professions.
The final session on the closing day was an Ethics Panel Discussion, with leading papers covering whistleblowers, privacy and ethics in Defence Force
research. The highlight of this, and one of the highlights of the whole conference, was an address by Toni Hoffman, the Nurse Unit Manager of the Intensive and Coronary Care Units at Bundaberg hospital who “blew the whistle” on Dr Jayant Patel in 2005. This was a powerful and personal presentation of the challenges and dilemmas facing somebody who, having identified a matter of grave concern, must address and overcome
conflicts between what is right and what is seen by others is being an abuse of the organisation.
On the social front, a Welcome Reception was held on the first evening, and the Conference Dinner on the Saturday evening, which was attended by well over 500 delegates and partners, was addressed by noted writer and broadcaster and former Wallaby, Mr Peter FitzSimons. Peter delivered a superb and entertaining after-dinner speech which covered not only the rather more humorous side of rugby union, but also the much more sober and serious issues that are intertwined in his important military historical books on Tobruk, Kokoda, and Nancy Wake. These themes included a significant focus on health matters.
There is no doubt that this conference was one of the best the Association has ever held. The only larger conference that has been held was a similar
combined Defence Health Services conference in 2002 where over 600 delegates attended. The quality of the papers, supplemented by the significant opportunities for networking among serving, supporting and retired Defence Health professionals no doubt contributes to the further advancement of the art, science and practice in military and veterans’ health.
In closing, I must pay tribute to the Organising and Scientific Committees, whose members are listed below, and who worked tirelessly and largely in their own time to develop a conference and scientific program that was second to none. I also thank our sponsors, who contributed significantly to the financial viability of the conference. And of course, but for the Association Secretariat, Paula Leishman and her team, there is no doubt that this conference would not have occurred but for their efforts.
This year’s conference will be held in Melbourne from the 19th to the 21st of October 2007. I’m sure we’ll maintain the same quality of papers as in last year’s conference, and I encourage all members and nonmember attendees at this conference to help make it a great event by being there. I look forward to seeing you.
Dr Nader Abou-Seif
Col Beverley Wright
LTCOL Bob Stacy
Mr Geoff Robinson
Brig Tony Gill
Dr Helen Kelsall
Dr Nader About-Seif
Col Beverley Wright
LtCol Bob Stacy
Dr Helen Kelsall
Assoc.Prof Scott Kitchener
GpCapt James Ross
Col Peter Murphy
Col Stephen Curry
ADF Mental Health
Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health
GE Health Care
Health for Industry
Smith & Nephew
Leishman & Associates
113 Harrington Street
Hobart Tas 7000
Ph: 61 3 6234 7844
Fax: 61 3 62 34 5958