Leading AMA figures have paid tribute to one of its former presidents, the legendary Dr Bruce Shepherd AM, who has died at the age 85.
A straight-talking orthopaedic surgeon in NSW, Dr Shepherd was a fierce opponent of Bob Hawke’s creation of Medicare in the 1980s and led a mass resignation of doctors over what he claimed to be the ‘nationalisation’ of the medical profession. He later went on to found a network of centres for children with hearing loss.
AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon said Australia has lost a giant of medicine and health advocacy.
“Dr Bruce Shepherd put the AMA and medical politics on the map,” he told the AMA annual conference.
“His tireless advocacy and campaigning for doctors and patients in the Hawke Government years were legendary.
“Bruce played politics tough and without fear, but he was a man of deep compassion and a strong will to help the disadvantaged and needy, built on the foundation of doing the best possible for his two children who were born profoundly deaf.
“Bruce continued his medico-political advocacy beyond his AMA leadership years, founding the Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Australian Doctors’ Fund.
“His pride was The Shepherd Centre, which specialises in early intervention to help children who are deaf and hearing-impaired develop spoken language skills.
“Under Bruce’s guidance, The Shepherd Centre has become a world leader in its field.
“Not everybody agreed with Bruce Shepherd, but everybody respected him for speaking out for what he believed was best for doctors, their patients, and the health system.
“He leaves a significant legacy. He will be missed.”
Although describing himself as a conservative, Dr Shepherd was a maverick who also supported liberal causes and candidates.
“Some of the more conservative members of the medical profession were surprised when Bruce made it clear that he wanted them to support me to become AMA President, wrote another former AMA leader, Dr Kerryn Phelps, in an obituary.
“It was irrelevant to him that I was a woman, or that I had a wife, and he told the “doubters” that it shouldn’t matter to them either. He believed in me and that was that.”
Dr Phelps described Dr Shepherd as a larger-than-life character with vision, passion and the persistence to achieve the seemingly impossible.
“He was such a legendary force in medical politics, that if you spoke of “Bruce” in medical circles, everyone would know exactly who you meant,” she said.
“While his public persona is the tough negotiator and fearless protector of the independence of the medical profession, Bruce had a heart of gold. “
You can read Dr Shepherd’s thoughts on his own career here.