Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Rural advocate rewarded for contribution

Neal Wallace

A long-time advocate for rural health services in Otago, Dr Branko Sijnja, has been awarded the Peter Snow Memorial Award for 2022.

Named after the late Peter Snow, a general practitioner and health sector leader in West Otago, the award recognises contributions to rural health and in Sijnja’s case, his 40 year service and dedication to the sector.

After a period overseas, in 1980 Sijnja moved into General Practice and became involved in the formation of Clutha Health First, a bespoke healthcare provider offering hospital, community and general practice services in Balclutha, South Otago.

Clutha Health First opened in December 1998 and has transformed the delivery of healthcare to the Balclutha community.

“Whenever he comes to the conferences you can always spot him as he’s the one with the crowd of young doctors around him who know him through the training scheme.”

Dr Fiona Bolden
New Zealand Rural General Practice Network

Sijnja is still involved in the governance of Clutha Health First and sits on the board of the Clutha Community Health Company Limited while working at the clinic every Monday.

In 2009 he became the director of the Rural Medical Immersion Programme at University of Otago, through which he mentors fifth year medical students as they spend a year working and studying in rural New Zealand.

He uses this role to share his experience and passion for rural health.

New Zealand Rural General Practice Network chair Dr Fiona Bolden says Branko has always supported the network.

“Whenever he comes to the conferences you can always spot him as he’s the one with the crowd of young doctors around him who know him through the training scheme.

“He’s usually telling them tales and there’s always lots of laughter,” she says.

In 2021, Branko was awarded Distinguished Fellowship of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, which recognises fellows of the college who have made sustained contributions to general practice, medicine, or the health and wellbeing of the community.

Branko currently works part time at the University and will be retiring from his role as programme director at the end of this month but plans to continue working at Clutha Health First for three days a week.

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