Stawell’s newest doctor awarded OAM
12 February 2024
“I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be a heroin addict.”
When Stawell Medical Centre’s newest GP, Dr Christine Longman, learned she was one of 15 GPs to receive a gong in the Australia Day honours last month, she was taken completely by surprise.
But those aware of her long list of selfless service to community and the medical profession knew her Order of Australia Medal was truly vindicated. The quietly spoken doctor who likes to be known simply as ‘Chris’ is not completely sure which of her achievements ensured her award but she has recently found out who nominated her.
“There are a few things my nominator would not know about me and only a quarter of the things have been documented in the OAM bio,” Dr Longman said.
“I guess what stands out for me is more than 40 years of general practice in Yarraville but also my work with patients going through recovery from substance abuse.”
After graduating from Monash University in 1979, Dr Longman began work at Footscray’s Western Hospital before moving into obstetrics at Williamstown Hospital. Not long after she started her partnership in the Yarraville clinic.
“I never worked full time at the clinic because I always allowed time to do a number of other jobs as well,” she said.
A defining moment for Dr Longman came around 1994 when there was a lot of drug use filtering into the Western Suburbs.
“I was struggling a bit with patient issues there, so I went to the local drug service and said ‘look I don’t know what’s going on – please help me’.
“Their way of helping me was to give me a job one day a week working with those who were dependent on a range of substances but predominantly pregnant women.
“They were usually real battlers who had a pretty raw deal from life.
“Following this, I was setting up programs for GPs in the Western Suburbs to try and help them work better with patients dealing with substance abuse. You can’t just say ‘stop using drugs’ because it doesn’t work like that.”
Dr Longman said during her drug work, she was often asked to give talks at various events.
“At one particular Rotary dinner I was asked to give a talk about drug use in the Western Suburbs and what services are available,” she said.
“It was only 10 days after my father had died and I realised I had already committed to this talk, so I fronted up and started by saying ‘I think your topic is boring, so I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be a heroin addict’.
“And boy did they sit up and take notice.”
Dr Longman started with: “Imagine never being able to sleep in because you’re in withdrawal.
“If you’re dependent on heroin, once it gets you, you go into terrible withdrawals. Most of them don’t want to be using but the reason they do is to avoid the withdrawal because it’s so awful.
“Heroin is a short acting drug so you will be in withdrawal every four to six hours. Therefore, you can never have a sleep-in because you will go into withdrawal.
“Then you’ve got to source the drug and that generally involves an illicit activity such as stealing, selling your body or selling drugs and a lot of them end up dealing.
“If we can use medications such as methadone to help them deal with their withdrawal that will allow them to reintegrate with society, get jobs, make money and form meaningful relationships and preferably get away from mixing with drug dealers.”
Working in Stawell
Dr Longman’s choices through life have usually been for the best of reasons and her decision to work in Stawell is no exception. She started working part time at Stawell Medical Centre last month.
“I was asked to consider general practice at Stawell by Dr Andrew Horwood who works at the Alan Wolff Medical Centre in Horsham. He’s an old GP training program colleague and he asked if I would help out as a locum doctor but I don’t like being a locum because you don’t form any long-term relationships with your patients.
“I’m so glad I’ve come here because it’s been most enjoyable and the staff are incredibly helpful. I know the area quite well because I lived six years as a child in Ballarat and my grandmother lived in Ararat and Horsham so we had all our holidays there.
“When Dr Horwood mentioned Stawell, the first thing I thought of was bushwalking because I love doing that. Another plus is that my niece Cathy is an associate nurse unit manager of the dialysis team at Wimmera Cancer Centre.
“Cathy is studying to be a nurse practitioner and I visited her at work recently. I’m impressed with her commitment to her work and studies.”
Dr Longman also spent 32 years working in GP training of which a period was in charge of training practice accreditation and support in the western half of Victoria including Ballarat and Horsham. She would train doctors to work in General Practice and she often volunteered her time to help doctors who were struggling to get through their exams.
In 2007 she wrote a Masters thesis on why GPs were reluctant to prescribe opioid treatment to people with heroin issues. She interviewed a number of GPs and wrote the thesis and published several articles from it.
“I subsequently developed an interest in GP research and so I undertook a small study on the role of the practice managers in teaching our registrars.”
While bushwalking may take up much her spare time in Stawell, Dr Longman is also learning to play music.
“A few years ago, I decided to learn the clarinet and now I’m learning the soprano saxophone as well. I’m hopeless but l love messing around with music and I do like jazz these days.”
Grampians Health Chief Operating Officer Community and Aged Care Craig Wilding welcomed the inclusion of Dr Longman to the Stawell Medical Centre team.
“Dr Longman’s commitment to being a regular GP at the clinic is great news for the Stawell community. The clinic now has a solid team of GPs providing ready access to timely care.” Mr Wilding said.
Dr Longman’s other roles include:
- A member of Amnesty International since 1981, regularly writing three letters a week for human rights. In 1987 she formed a Williamstown group which disbanded during COVID.
- She joined a committee in 2002 which established a counselling service in Footscray.
- She worked at Sunshine Hospital’s gestational diabetes antenatal clinic for nine years.
- She is also an Honorary Senior Fellow in the University of Melbourne’s Department of General Practice and Primary Care Research Centre.