General practitioner Dr Matthew Gray’s long list of achievements and there are many – highlights the work beyond the four walls of his consultancy room – and it’s his many years of contribution to community health that saw him awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
Dr Gray was a little more than surprised by the award, which he says he is deeply honoured to receive and “it adds a weight of responsibility to strive to do better”.
He now joins his father-in-law Dr John Schwartz OAM, as well as being a principle GP at the family based practice in Elderslie.
Asked why he chose to become a GP, he recollected having written down at the tender age of seven, a career choice between becoming a surfer or a doctor. Thankfully for the medical profession the latter won out.
He is the first in his family to follow a medical career, but not the last.
His mother was a teacher and his father, who passed away in the height of the covid pandemic in July 2021, retired as a school principal. Dr Gary would have loved to have shared his OAM news with his father.
“When my mother went to uni, there weren’t many women at the time; so she has been a source of inspiration as well as my dad.
“Being in teaching probably encouraged me to work hard; teaching itself is a caring and learning profession and part of what I have done is to educate future doctors whether it be medical students or registrars here, so that must have brought out some of the teaching things that I must have inherited from them.”
Dr Gray values the opportunity to look after and be involved with people “through all aspects of their health”.
“The simplest of things can make a big difference to people’s lives and that may just mean providing a friendly ear.
“The beauty of being a GP of all the medical specialities, you help the whole person; whether it be social, physical, mental and emotional issues.
“Often listening is enough. Other times people face really serious things and you can make a difference through the treatment…but ultimately, I have seen some courageous stories and learnt a lot from patients as well.”
He said as humans we are complex creatures.
“I never stop learning and admiring and being inspired by people’s stories.”
Dr Gray’s concerns extend beyond the practice – he is championing the health care issues of broader South West Sydney.
He is heavily involved in the South West Sydney Primary health Network that “tries to improve access to quality medical and health care through supporting and building capacities within general practices and other primary care settings… to deliver the care our community needs”.
“I am fairly passionate about South West Sydney and Camden in particular, the people here really do face challenges that other areas might not, but address them, and there is a lot of community spirit.”
Along with his in-laws and wife, Dr Gray is involved with the African AIDS Foundation. His earliest experience in Africa was as a third year medical student with his yet-to-be wife, working in a hospital that cared for Zulu people.
“The highlight of doing medicine is that you can take your skills – be it here or to another community on the other side of the world…”
With so much work to do to keep the spotlight on health, Dr Gray has initiatives he would like to see come to fruition – such as “removing barriers and improving the relationship between our commonwealth and state delivery of health”.
“People whether they are using a state run hospital facility or a commonwealth supported general practice primary care services – the people at the centre still have the same need…”
He wants to see best options for a “person’s journey through the health system”, but said it’s a work in progress.
Dr Gray is also on the local health district board.
“At heart I am an optimist. I do think there has been change for the better [in the system] if I look at 2000 (Campbelltown and Camden hospitals) when I started and where they are now there is a bright future for South West Sydney.”
The father of four is married to GP, Dr Jane Gray, who is the daughter of Dr John Schwartz – two of Grays’ sons are also heading for a career in medicine.