How the RFDS is spreading their wings beyond the airfield

Scott Chapman, Chief Executive of the Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria, explains how the COVID-19 pandemic brought a tough year, but a transformative one for health services.

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Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - our fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s most influential and exciting business leaders five simple questions to unveil the challenges, successes, and behind-the-scenes operations of Australia’s leading institutions.

Having held the position of Chief Executive of Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Victoria for more than 10 years, Scott’s influence has led him to become a Fellow of Leadership Victoria, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and a board member of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few of his accomplishments.

After speaking with Scott, it quickly became clear that his dedication and passion for helping others has transcended into his working life.

Scott Chapman, Chief Executive of the Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria.#1: What is the biggest problem at the RFDS and how do you plan to solve it?

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been responding to medical and health needs across Australia for more than 90 years. And the continual challenge over that time, and which we continue to face, is the attraction and retention of a strong rural and remote workforce.

Rural tertiary students and young professionals migrate to metropolitan areas for education and early career experience and often do not return given the lifestyle and work opportunities offered by cities. This drain of “good talent” from country to city (not just in health) is tough on rural populations and RFDS is focused on building resilience and connections within our remote communities.

With the advancement and acceptance of remote working as a result of COVID-19, RFDS is embracing technology to overcome the challenges of distance via telehealth and home monitoring as well as embracing Zoom support networks for our professionals in the field.

#2: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the RFDS?

In Victoria, our field staff had just come off eight weeks of bushfire response and evacuations when the pandemic hit. Our income was hit hard with no ability to continue our fundraising events, and with the closure of many rural communities to any outside visiting services, many of our health services – mobile dentistry, GP, optometry, mental health, elective surgery transportation and others were curtailed.

On the upside, the shift from face to face to technology saw us ramp up telehealth across many areas, and with the Commonwealth Government extending Medicare rebates to telehealth consultations, we were able to establish a strong platform for future “remote” medical services.

We have also been heavily involved in COVID-19 patient transport, testing clinics in remote and rural communities and are currently involved in the vaccine rollout. A tough year but a transformative one for health services.

#3: How has the RFDS evolved over the past 10 years?

Known well for its “swoop and scoop” emergency service in outback Australia, RFDS has expanded its focus from just aero-medical emergency work to the provision of patient transport by road and air (in Victoria we have more than 120 road transport vehicles), and the provision of primary and preventative health services.

RFDS has a mission to “overcome the barriers to accessing good health” and is expanding its services to address the “social indicators of health”. So, you will see us in the air and on the ground addressing medical, social and community needs – mental health, isolation and loneliness is becoming a huge factor across our nation.

While the emergency work remains important, our capacity and capabilities have been extended to reduce the gap between health outcomes for individuals in metropolitan and rural areas.

#4: What excites you about the future?

I am always excited about the future. The last 12 months has brought out the greatness in people and organisations.

Our charitable supporters have been amazingly generous in supporting us through the crisis - which has been reaffirming of our work and our worth. In the medium-term RFDS has a very much expanded remit in community building and health service provision.

This year we will launch “Memory Lane” - a service for palliative patients wishing a final visit home or to a special place with their family and friends. And stand by for the new television drama “RFDS” which we filmed in Broken Hill around COVID-19 and is to come to our television screens after the Olympics. How good will that be?! The future is exciting.

#5: What is a piece of advice that motivates you?

I have three “mantras” I keep to the fore:

  1. “Most people want to and will do the right thing” – and I have witnessed so many good deeds by ordinary people. It reaffirms my faith and trust in people.
  2. “95 per cent of what you worry about never happens” – was the sage advice from my Dad for as long as I remember. I must have been a worrier!
  3. “Everything will be okay if you do your best” – the Centre for Optimism has been a luxury to be a member of. Optimism and longevity go hand in hand. I hope!

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