The Victorian Medical Benevolent Association
The Victorian Medical Benevolent Association (VMBA) was formed at a time when the medical profession in Victoria was still struggling to establish itself. Doctors were confronted by many issues in the towns and rural districts of nineteenth-century Victoria: isolation, remuneration, collegiality, training and registration. As part of what was a very difficult world, many of them had their own personal struggles in establishing a viable livelihood.
The profession has been well established in Victoria for more than a century now, but the numbers of doctors whose professional expertise does not extend to the world of business or financial management is no more or less than in the general community, and those issues facing the profession 150 years ago remain, even if cast in a different light. The ability of doctors to self-medicate, combined with their detailed knowledge of drugs and ability to access them, has helped create problems of substance abuse. Narcotic addiction has always been present within the medical fraternity but in recent decades illicit substance abuse amongst a younger cohort of professionals, with the complex and varied difficulties associated with such a state, has become more common. Alcoholism, of course, is another disabling factor that has appeared in the case books since the very early years.
Over the previous 155 years the VMBA has helped many distressed practitioners and their families. However, the recipients are still a very small percentage of the Victorian medical population – there were 812 registered doctors in 1892, and 28,145 in 2018, and there have never been more than a handful of recipients at any given time.
How can something endure for so long when there appears to be so little need for it? This question is considered by chronologically discussing some of the professional concerns and issues raised by practitioners in the medical press, surveying the cases that have come before the committee and studying the attitudes and concerns of the Association towards these doctors and their families. Ultimately, however, the best explanation for the longevity and endurance of the Victorian Medical Benevolent Association is that doctors are a community unto their own and the empathy required to deal with their particular problems is best found amongst their colleagues.