Articles and Case Studies

Beyond Clinical Practice

07 Dec 2023

Niranjala Hillyard

by Niranjala Hillyard

Beyond clinical practice (Dr Simon Torvaldsen supplied)

There’s no aspect of general practice that Dr Simon Torvaldsen doesn’t love. With his strong interest in health policy and strengthening the role of primary health care, it’s no surprise that Simon is the Chair of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Council of General Practice, working to improve our health system and promote the value of general practice. He was also recently appointed Vice President of the AMA (WA) where he plays an active role.

Simon has made significant contributions to the medical field, including founding Australia’s first private Palliative Care Unit at Mount Lawley Private Hospital, and being a founding member of the Australian Motor Sports Medicine Association. He was instrumental in creating GP After Hours Mount Lawley at Mercy Hospital and later relocating it to Third Avenue Surgery.

Simon provides expert advice to a number of government committees, the Medical Board and the media. He finds satisfaction in making a difference for his patients and for the future of medicine in Australia. In this interview, Simon shares his reflections on doctors’ roles beyond clinical practice.


Q1. What were your first thoughts when asked to contribute to this article?

Being asked to contribute to a publication by a medical defence organisation (MDO) raises some interesting questions. Most of us have benefited from the support and advice from our MDOs at various times. But, because they are the ones we turn to when ‘disaster’ strikes, they can also be a reminder of the hassles we encounter in medicine – the things we shouldn’t do, or must do, to avoid problems – even when the outcome is sound advice and problems solved.

So I felt I should talk about the joys of medicine – the immense value we contribute to society, and everything we achieve beyond the doors of our consulting rooms.

Q2. What’s your opinion on the role of doctors beyond clinical practice?

It’s obvious that most of us contribute directly to patient care in some way, whether in general practice, diagnostics, or any other specialty; others contribute via research and teaching. And when I look around, there are many doctors who go above and beyond the traditional consulting role, using their wisdom and expertise to make Australia a better and healthier place. And, of course, many of us have talents outside the medical field – in arts, music, or other endeavours.

Medical training does emphasise leadership and decision-making, along with care and compassion. Many doctors end up in leadership positions. I believe this, in most cases, stems from a wish to make a difference and ensure better outcomes, rather than for glory. This may involve leadership in areas of health, such as hospitals, health departments and universities; or in other areas, such as politics or social advocacy.

Take MDA National President Dr Michael Gannon, for example, who also served as President of the AMA (WA) and the Federal AMA; and his numerous contributions through various boards and committees, far beyond his work as an obstetrician & gynaecologist. But we don’t always have to be the high-profile leaders seen on television and social media to make a real difference. Much active leadership happens behind the scenes.

Q3. What does your work within the AMA typically involve?

The AMA is the most powerful medical lobby group, with onerous background work undertaken at all levels. I am part of this both in WA and nationally, including sitting on multiple committees and providing input into many facets of our health system.

On top of this is the formulation of AMA policy, strategy development, and the advocacy work itself. As a GP in an organisation representing the entire profession, my first task is to advocate for GPs within the AMA itself. How can I stand a chance with government if I can’t convince my peers?

Then there’s working with key stakeholders to ensure a united message; and pressing for key policies with government through logical and persuasive arguments. My Canberra meetings earlier this year involved pushing a lot of the agenda that emerged in the latest budget. Representing the AMA opened doors that would otherwise have been shut.

Q4. What motivates you in your active role within the AMA (WA)?

I continue to be active within the AMA (WA) because I want to make a positive difference to our health system and get better outcomes for patients, doctors, and our nation as a whole. Most doctors genuinely want to change things for the better. And while helping patients is clearly one way to do this, we often see that working towards making system improvements may achieve even more.

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes on behalf of the profession. General practice would be in an even more parlous position without the AMA, and with no way out. And our involvement at all levels also enables us to prevent many bad policy decisions before they even see the light of day.

A key lesson I’ve learnt from being with the AMA is that one person can indeed make a difference, and that goes for many of us who are active in roles outside the consultation room. As individuals, we may think we only make small differences here and there. But collectively, our nation is a better place for having the ethics and work of doctors contributing not simply to patient care, but in a much broader way. I feel extremely lucky to be in a position where I can exert my influence for the better.

Q5. Anything else you’d like to say to your fellow medical practitioners?

I think we should all be proud of the immense positive contribution our profession makes to society at so many levels. Even those of us who think we don’t do much should stop and reflect – we are role models for so many; we are considered knowledgeable; our advice is listened to (perhaps not always as much as we would like!); and we are often able to advocate for those who have little voice.

I am no different to most of you, and we do tend to worry about the trials and tribulations of being a doctor. But we should also take a moment to consider the many ways in which we contribute to make Australia a better place – and that the rewards can far outweigh the negatives.

For me, being a doctor is a glass that’s a lot more than half full. I hope it’s the same for you too.


You can contact Dr Simon Torvaldsen with any questions or comments via email at


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