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December 2012

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Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Education Strategy Senior Advisor Ronald McCoy.

Public housing shapes doctor’s career

Growing up in public housing gave Ronald McCoy a broad perspective on the community, which helped shape his career in medicine.

Now the Education Strategy Senior Advisor at the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr McCoy grew up in a family of 10 children.

He still remembers his family’s first visit to their Dallas home, north of Melbourne, in 1965, and how delighted his mother was to see the house had running hot water.

‘People think about it as being a very culturally-bleak sort of place but it was incredibly rich.’

Dr McCoy lived in a multicultural and diverse street, almost ‘country-like’, with lots of kids.

He remembers star-gazing, cycling everywhere and catching snakes and lizards.

‘It was nothing on a summer evening for 30 kids to be playing cricket in the front yard.’

Dr McCoy said public housing gave his working parents an immense physical stability that, in turn, created family stability.

The home meant a lot to his mother who, in her last years when she had cancer, chose to be cared for at home.

‘She loved that house,’ Dr McCoy says.

‘Imagine, when she got married in 1943, she had nothing.

‘And when she died, she died in her own home.

‘That was really important to her.’

Dr McCoy followed his interest in maths and working with people to study medicine at Melbourne University, which he admits was a ‘huge’ culture shock.

Later working in community health, Dr McCoy helped introduce the needle syringe exchange during the HIV epidemic, treated methadone patients and led an education program for other GPs.

Living in a diverse area, where people struggled with and sometimes died from drinking or drugs, helped Dr McCoy understand his patients.

‘I never had negative attitudes,’ Dr McCoy said.

‘I never demonised people who used drugs.’

Dr McCoy now educates other doctors – he believes teaching is one of the most important ways to foster positive culture.

To that end, he wrote the curriculum for general practice training for communication, diagnosis and treatment and all public health issues.

He said his culturally-rich upbringing ‘totally shaped’ his work.

‘It’s really important that GPs get trained appropriately to treat everyone in the community,’ Dr McCoy said.

‘I’ve seen the whole scale, from the poorest to the richest people, that’s where I’ve been immensely privileged.

‘Seeing the whole scale gives you a much broader view of the community.’

Dr McCoy’s story can be found at

This site commemorates 75 years of public housing in Victoria and focuses on the history of public housing and inspiring stories about past and current tenants.