AFTER more than half a century of dedication to the health sector, David Briggs is recognised this Australia Day as a Member of the Order of Australia - but it's a career that almost never happened.
Dr Briggs AM is perhaps best known as the longtime chief executive of Tamworth Base Hospital, where he steered the region's most important health institution for 16 years.
"My entrance into a career in health was accidental," Dr Briggs said.
"I was fortunate at the time to go to Hurlstone Agricultural Boys High School at Glenfield, so had an intention to pursue a career in agriculture.
"That career did not eventuate, but it was a continuing interest and a rural lifestyle that we eventually adopted.
"I started working in the NSW Department of Health and subsequently the NSW Health Commission."
In 1981, he became the hospital's chief executive and, at 33, was the youngest to hold the position at what was then a 300-bed hospital.
"In my time, we were builders," he said.
"We built and established a diabetes centre, a palliative care centre, a rehab centre and a hydrotherapy pool, better clinical facilities and life education services, just to name a few."
Dr Briggs said an important facet of his time was building up Aboriginal employment and healthcare.
"We developed Aboriginal-specific employment opportunities in the health service and, I understand, we were the first public hospital to raise the Aboriginal flag," he said.
"These initiatives were successful and many of those we employed became the elders in the local community.
"The current younger generation are good examples of people with professional roles and who are ambassadors for their culture.
"At that time, I and some others convinced the federal government to establish an Aboriginal health management training program."
Dr Briggs said although the Australian healthcare system was well regarded, it still had challenges.
"The challenge for us all is to get better equity of access for regional, rural and remote communities to primary healthcare, as those communities have unacceptable poor levels of health outcomes, compared to the rest of Australia," he said.
"To achieve that, we need to restore the social capital of those communities.
"Healthcare is a significant contributor to our local economies, and we should ensure that we have an adequate health workforce.
"They all demonstrate resilience and an indomitable spirit, which is why living in rural communities continues to be a very positive experience."