A Northland GP who arrived in New Zealand 20 years ago with nothing more than a job offer and $78 in his pocket has been awarded the country's highest honour for rural medicine.
Grahame Jelley, who until recently worked at The Doctors in Kerikeri, has been named this year's winner of the Peter Snow Memorial Award.
The annual award recognises outstanding contributions to rural health in service, innovation or research.
Jelley's entire career has been in rural communities, from his birthplace of Zimbabwe to South Africa to New Zealand, where he has worked in Westland, the eastern Bay of Plenty and, since 2014, the Far North.
Rural GPs had to be able to deal with anything, he said.
Anyone who had a heart attack in a city would be taken straight to hospital but in the country they'd often be treated at a medical centre first.
''In rural practice you're the pointy end of the stick,'' he said.
Jelley trained in South Africa where his first job was at a rural mission hospital.
When he returned to Zimbabwe he worked at a sugar estate where four to five GPs looked after 7000 employees and 35,000 dependents.
Later he took on a solo practice in a small town near the border with Mozambique, which he built up into a fully fledged rural hospital.
As Zimbabwe spiralled deeper into chaos in the late 1990s Jelley and his wife Renene, a practice nurse at Kerimed in Kerikeri, sought work in New Zealand.
The family had to leave everything behind, hence the $78 in his pocket when they arrived in Westport in 2000.
The transition from a farming community in Zimbabwe to a West Coast farming and mining community with ''salt of the earth people'' was easy.
''If I'd gone to the big smoke I would have wilted and died,'' he said.
Other jobs followed in Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki.
Jelley had already done stints in Northland as a locum when he was offered a job at The Doctors in Kerikeri in 2014.
He said he'd be keen if he could continue the kind of clinical leadership work he'd been doing in the Bay of Plenty.
It turned out the then Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation was looking for a rural clinical lead, which allowed him to work three days a week as a GP and two days on the ''big picture'' of Northland health.
''I find that a really good mix. I can influence individual lives, but I can also influence the broader community.''
Since becoming ill in late 2019 Jelley has pulled back from GP work but continues his leadership roles with Mahitahi Hauora, Northland's primary health entity. He is the region's rural clinical director as well as clinical director of Māmā Pēpe Tamariki (mothers infants children) for the Mid North.
Jelley said the degree of deprivation in rural Zimbabwe was different to that of rural New Zealand, but both countries had significant inequities and an indigenous population that had suffered the effects of colonialism.
The biggest area of professional growth for him in the past 20 years had come from immersing himself in Māori health issues and advocating for better Māori health outcomes.
The GP said he felt overwhelmed by the award.
''To be acknowledged alongside the giants of general practice and nursing, as a Johnny-come-lately, is difficult to describe — particularly at a time of personal challenge. It gives me hope to continue the fight.''
Jelley had already been through cancer in 2009-10 and is now battling the disease a second time, this time in his lungs.
He is self-funding the drug Keytruda which means having to raise $10,000 every three weeks. His family, with some reluctance on his part, has set up a Givealittle page.
He was also helping the NZ Lung Foundation lobby for wider funding of the drug which, although proven effective for lung cancer, is funded only for breast cancer and melanoma.
NZ Rural General Practice Network chairwoman Fiona Bolden said Jelley was ''an incredibly kind and genuine person'' whose dedication to rural medicine and his commitment to advancing Māori health made him a deserving recipient of the award.
That was echoed by many in the Kerikeri community, including Kerikeri Retirement Village chief executive Hilary Sumpter.
''Dr Jelley was a stalwart for us. His bedside manner, complete respect for our residents and his use of te reo for our Māori residents meant he was extraordinarily popular. Grahame is also a strategic thinker, always looking at ways of innovating, working smarter and working together to create better health outcomes for the community,'' she said.
■ Previous Northland winners of the award include Wellsford GP Tim Malloy(2010) and Moerewa GP Graeme Fenton (2013).