Professor Ruth Stewart was appointed as the second National Rural Health Commissioner for Australia in July 2020. She brings to this role nearly 30 years of work as a Rural Generalist doctor with the advanced skills of a GP obstetrician and twenty years of experience in rural medical education.
Professor Stewart has lived and worked on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait for the past five years and was Adjunct Professor of Rural Medicine, Director Rural Clinical Training at James Cook University College of Medicine and Dentistry from 2012 where she oversaw the doubling of rural clinical placements for the medical school. She worked clinically as a Senior Medical Officer at Mareeba Hospital and then at Thursday Island Hospital until 2019. From 2014 to 2016 she was a Director of Medical Training with the Queensland Rural Generalist Program.
Professor Stewart was President of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine from 2016-2018 and was on the College’s board from 2002-2020 in various roles. She has been a member of the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service board for six years, the Cape York Hospital Board for two years and has been on the board of several Regional Training Providers/Organisations for General Practice Training, the board of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia and of the Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre board for three years. She has held a number of representative and medico political roles including on the Distribution Advisory Group, and the Health Innovation Advisory Committee for the National Health and Medical Research Authority.
For 22 years Professor Stewart was a General Practitioner in private practice in Camperdown in south west Victoria and a Visiting Medical Officer in the local public hospital. In 2008 she was employed as the inaugural Director of Clinical Training Rural with the then new medical school of Deakin University. She established the rural program for the school creating a network of Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship placements for third year medical students to spend their core clinical year in small town rural practices.
Professor Stewart received a PhD from Flinders University in 2014. Her thesis examined the lessons learnt from a Managed Clinical Network of rural maternity services in South West Victoria. She has an abiding research interest in quality of rural maternity services and sustainable models of rural health care. Her experience of rural health care has not only been professional. She was born prematurely in a Bush Nursing Hospital in Victoria and in turn had three of her four children in a small rural hospital. Her husband of 30 years had an acute myocardial infarction whilst cycling near Mareeba and was given life-saving thrombolysis in an ambulance on the side of the Kennedy Highway and then in 2016 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma she had chemotherapy on Thursday Island via telemedicine.