RETIRING general practitioner Rod Hanton says the big "elephant in the room" when it comes to health is stress and the underlying ways stress can manifest.
Dr Hanton said while there was increasing public and media attention on mental health, stress was still an underestimated impact more now than ever in his almost 40 years as a regional GP, mostly in Ballarat.
"Stress and stress management in its many forms is important for everybody," Dr Hanton said. "Stress underlies and manifests in other health conditions like poor sleep, finances, weight, blood pressure inflammation.
"Stress is such a word its use can mean all sorts of things, whether in the background there is an anxiety or uneasiness, if it manifests physically, or if it leads to depression...particularly depression for men and boys of all ages is a big issue that traditionally has never been talked about much.
"A lot of this is largely preventable in stress management. If we identify stress, we should also be paying more attention to making time for fun and joy in our lives."
A lot of this is largely preventable in stress management. If we identify stress, we should also be paying more attention to making time for fun and joy in our lives.Dr Rod Hanton
Lifestyle and nutrition has become a personally strong focus for Dr Hanton later in his career. He said this was likely a natural progression and reflection on his own life: as a young doctor with young children, he tended to work a lot more in the family space; as he grew older and more concerned with accumulation of lifestyle choices, he has tended to see more patients with similar focus.
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The job as a regional GP has changed too. There is the day-to-day skills: obstetrics was particularly important in Mortlake, which he did as part of shared care with Warrnambool; and, minor surgeries have gradually phased out of his practice with more referrals to specialists now.
As a profession, Dr Hanton said GPs have been getting out more from behind the desk giving health orders to sharing a little more of their own lives. Dr Hanton said general practice was much more a collaboration with a patient, sharing a little from personal experience to better empathise and show an understanding.
He has enjoyed the teamwork aspect with patients.
Part of a move towards lifestyle medicine too, Dr Hanton said, was undoubtedly better public education and access to information and advice on diet, nutrition, exercise and risk factors. This led to better questions from patients and a chance for him to fine-tune his responses.
Being healthy is not a one-size-fits-all thing. You try and work out what the patient wants and needs.Dr Rod Hanton
"Some people want to do everything they can to be healthy and want a lot of information and follow-up. Some people want a little bit, to know their blood pressure is good, and get on with their lives - and that's fine too," Dr Hanton said. "Being healthy is not a one-size-fits-all thing. You try and work out what the patient wants and needs."
Dr Hanton arrived in regional Victoria as a GP after a couple years working in the United Kingdom. First in Casterton, then settling in Mortlake for 10 years, Dr Hanton loved what regional health offered. In Mortlake, this was being "woven into the fabric of the community", the rich emotions of being part of key family moments from joy with births to grieving with death.
The family moved to Ballarat in 1992 as his eldest child started secondary school. Dr Hanton loved the great education, sport and big regional town feel.
"You feel well-supported in the medical facilities Ballarat has," Dr Hanton said. "You become part of Ballarat's extended community too. You get to know who to send a patient to for specialists and who not to send a person to because personalities might not work. In Ballarat, I've really loved getting to know patients for such a long time."
Dr Hanton retired from his Ballarat practice last week.