‘It’s never been dull’: Shepparton doctor Ron Tomkins retires

‘It’s never been dull’: Shepparton doctor Ron Tomkins retires

That was almost 50 years ago.

General practice, delivering babies, administering anesthetics, chemotherapy, athletic training and surgical assistance, Ron – like many country doctors – had a career with the bunch.

In January, Ron gave up the stethoscope, content with a career that included 46 years as a GP at Princess Park Clinic in Shepparton.

Credit: Ron Tomkins (second from left) photographed for the news in 2012 alongside Satpal Singh, Derek Wooff and Mark Harris. All four had been recognized at the annual Victorian Rural Doctor Awards. Photo by Julie Mercer

“One of my patients I saw by remembered bringing her daughter to me during my first year as a GP and credited me with saving her daughter’s life,” Ron said.

“She’s stood by me through the years.

“I had mixed feelings saying I’m retiring because I’ve had a good connection with a lot of patients over the past few weeks and had a lot of well wishes.”

Born and raised in Pakenham, Ron Maree married in his fifth year of medical studies at the University of Melbourne.

Ron’s local career has been marked by flooding.

He joined Mooroopna Hospital as an intern in 1974 – when thousands were being evacuated when the Goulburn River swelled to 12.09m – and walked in just months after the October 2022 event, which was 0.3m below that peak the retirement.

Despite a wet welcome, Ron said his freshman year at Mooroopna was thrown in at the deep end and it was one of the best of his career.

“In the first year of my working life, I said this was the right place for us,” he said.

“We were well received because at the time it was not uncommon for anyone to choose Mooroopna Hospital as their first choice for an internship.

“So I’ve been welcomed with open arms and not only have I been treated well and respected, but I’m thrilled with the responsibility I’ve been given.”

Milestone: Bruce and Leona Sterling, Sheryl Keir, and Maree and Ron Tomkins celebrate the 40th anniversary of Shepparton Private Hospital in 2019. Photo by Megan Fisher

During his second year at the hospital, Ron worked under obstetrician-gynecologist John Hetherington, who recommended him to join the GP Clinic on the corner of Maude Street and Knight Street.

He joined Arthur Dickmann, Frank Harder and John Gibb in the clinic behind Dr. Dickmann’s house.

“After 12 months, as a young upstart, I said to my then-colleague, ‘These facilities aren’t very good – too hot in summer, too cold in winter,'” said Ron.

So in 1978 they moved to 3 Nixon St, Shepparton – a new purpose built center which was named Princess Park Clinic – and at the age of 28 Ron assumed the role of practice manager.

But that wasn’t enough to keep him busy.

In addition to his work as a general practitioner, he delivered babies, administered anesthetics and helped establish the oncology clinic at what was then Goulburn Valley Base Hospital with surgeon Ian Gunn, administering chemotherapy drugs to patients with advanced cancer.

Ron later found a vocation in sports medicine and traveled to Melbourne once a week for additional training and continued teaching other local people to become sports coaches.

“Over the years I thought I was taking on a little too much so the birth fell by the wayside and I also realized that my anesthesia skills probably weren’t up to the task of taking on complicated cases and didn’t do that either I after ,” he said.

Close choice: Ron poses for the news in 2014 after a large eucalyptus tree fell in the Princess Park Clinic parking lot. Photo by Simon Bingham

Instead, Ron took on a role that became one of his most fulfilling; Surgical assistant to orthopedist Richard Horton for 30 years.

“Working one day a week as a surgical assistant was very enlightening, looking at what’s under the skin and fixing people’s joints, things like that,” he said.

Reflecting on his career, Ron said the time was special, but it was cut short when Dr. Horton tragically died in a car accident on his way to work in 2014.

“Once he was gone I just felt like I couldn’t work with anyone else, we had a very strong relationship,” he said.

Throughout his decades-long career, Ron witnessed many technological changes in medicine, including computerization in the 1990s – when Ron admitted to being “very computer-naive”.

Recognizing this and the growth of the clinic, Ron and other partners decided to hire a new practice manager and then in the early 2000’s moved to where the clinic is now located at 172 Welsford Street.

During his professional life, Ron also took on the role of a designated AME, conducting medical screenings of pilots, and was a health officer who saw him administer vaccinations.

Sharp-eyed: Ron was often photographed by news photographers on the golf course. Photo by Megan Fisher

In a wide range of activities, Ron had to constantly educate himself, go to conferences and read professional journals.

“My career has been very rewarding and fulfilling, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“Times have changed, my patient clientele, who saw everything and everything across all age groups, then mainly concentrated on the older generations.

“It was never boring, there will always be something new.”

It took a little longer in 1974 than Maree might have expected, but Ron and Maree have moved back to Melbourne and are looking forward to travel and time with the family, including three grandchildren.

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