Connected Conversations | Greg Crawford

Many might know clinical titleholder, Professor Greg Crawford, as the organist for the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery Declaration Ceremonies but he has been a part of the University of Adelaide community since his undergraduate studies. Now working at SA Health, Greg continues to explore many areas of clinical care and research, while nurturing his love of music.

Image of Greg

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Greg Crawford. I am a clinical titleholder at the University of Adelaide and I work at SA Health as a palliative medicine physician. I have had a long relationship with the University of Adelaide, from my earlier ‘life’ as a student at the University and then as a rural general practitioner. I thought I never wanted to be a teacher when I left school but have since become a passionate educator of clinicians and, more recently, quite an active researcher. Undertaking a doctorate in my late forties was a larger and more burdensome decision than I first realised but this has opened such a wealth of opportunities for me. Initially, I never aspired to be anything but a clinician, but the opportunities I’ve had by seeking promotion within the University has added such value to my clinical work and to the quality of my life in general. 

I have coordinated the teaching and assessment of Professionalism and Leadership across the six years of the University of Adelaide medical program since 2008, and coordinate the palliative care teaching and communication in the clinical years. During COVID-19, I was asked to facilitate the re-introduction of medical students into the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network facilities, as this is where my clinical responsibilities are based. I have helped develop a large research portfolio within the clinical team, looking at our clinical practice and have developed multiple relationships with other researchers within the University of Adelaide and around Australia and internationally. This takes time and I remember being advised to ‘sit on the coat tails of others’. Good advice. We need to work in teams in all aspects of clinical care and research.

What was your first area of study and what drew you to this space?

I say, perhaps flippantly, that my midlife crisis was to retrain in palliative medicine. It has been a good choice and, although there were significant financial impacts initially, it is, I am sure, much less traumatic on one’s finances and life in general than breaking up with a long-term partner. My first research project was near the end of my time in general practice. I sought to understand what the needs were of those who had died in our area and some of my beliefs were exposed as wrong. I found this fascinating and it has since led me to want to understand why things are as they are. No one wants to subject sick and vulnerable people to unnecessary or useless interventions. The challenge of understanding in an area of health care such as palliative medicine when all the potential patients are facing the end of their lives adds to the interest and need to have the best possible evidence available. This is not always a randomised clinical trial.

What are you working on now?

My current areas of investigation are diverse. To name a few, I am part of a team trying to understand how to develop public policy about sensitive issues in vulnerable populations. We are investigating how Advance Care Planning and Directives (the legal documentation) of end-of-life wishes occur in non-middle class white Australian populations. We are investigating Australian Aboriginal people, culturally and diverse people, the acutely sick, and those with specific illnesses such as cancer, lung failure and dementia. I am also working on what dying at home really means for people in this situation and how people might make such decisions and if they really want to even have these conversations at such a time. And then, I am also undertaking some research into aspect of the teaching that I am involved in!

What do you love most about the University of Adelaide?

For someone who is not actually employed by the University, I have found so many academic and professional staff who are approachable and enthusiastic despite some of the difficulties they are facing with COVID-19 and with restrictions to funding. I appreciate access to such a great library and am delighted when travelling in other areas of Australia, and even the world, to suddenly connect to University wi-fi! Eduroam, when it is there, is such a great facility.

Why would you encourage some to pursue a career in health?

To be working in health and to be caring for people is such a privilege. It brings heartache and frustrations, but I think being a medical practitioner is the best job in the world. It does impact on many parts of your life but part of growing and learning how to care for others is to learn how to care for yourself as well. I am not always successful in this regard but do believe that I generally thrive.

What do you do in your spare time?

I started learning to play the pipe organ in my first year after completing my undergraduate medical degree. Music continues to be a great relaxation and provides me with pleasure. At times, it has been hard to find time for lessons and practice, but music has added variety to me life and has been a way to meet people of other interests besides medicine. I also like cooking and entertaining and have become obsessed with needlework. A most unusual pastime.

How do you relax or switch off?

Nothing is better than sitting, looking at the ocean and reading a crime murder mystery. I don’t do it often enough but this helps me to relax and ‘switch off’. Being disciplined and turning off the phone and not looking at emails when I am on leave is so important but I still find very hard to do.

What are your hopes for 2021?

I have found COVID-19 quite challenging as I think everyone has. I do hope that it will ‘go away’ but see many benefits have come from this pandemic. To sit and consider one’s priorities and to be told to not race around the countryside and to stay at home was initially difficult. It brought many benefits but also some fears. I have a whole bunch of research grant applications submitted recently and am hoping that some will come to fruition. I hope for continuing good health and, above all, happiness.

Name three things you won’t forget about the past year…

  • Being told I was not allowed to see patients face-to-face for a time
  • Seeing such an augmentation of IT capability within my workplace
  • Having a holiday on Kangaroo Island, looking at the ocean and reading a book
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