Medical School Indigenous Stream

Tuesday 25 September 2012

What do you do at ANU?

I am a third-year medical student, currently spending my rural year in Bega and Tathra.  I'm part of the ANU Medical School's new Indigenous Stream, which creates opportunities for students who have a particular interest in Indigenous health.

Where and when did your interest in Indigenous health issues begin?

On a trip to Lake Mungo, I was given a deep sense of how important Indigenous culture and Indigenous people are to Australia. I first became aware of the health gap through the publicity surrounding the 'Close the Gap' campaign, but my interest has grown through my studies as I learn and experience more.

What are the main health issues faced by Indigenous Australians?

The same health issues that we all face, such as diabetes and heart disease, coughs and colds and ear infections; but many Indigenous Australians face far greater barriers to treating these issues. They face institutional racism in the health system, and transgenerational trauma from loss of country and culture. Many have strong family obligations, meaning their own health is not a priority.

Tell us about your recent placement in the Northern Territory.

I went to Yuendumu, a town of about 500 people, 300 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs on the Tanami track. It's one of the largest desert communities in the Northern Territory. Most people who live there are Warlpiri, and speak Warlpiri as their first language. There is a successful art centre, and a strong football tradition. The placement is organised through Flinders University. The ANU has a very comfortable house there for medical students.

I spent my days at the clinic, which houses up to two locum doctors, nine nurses, Aboriginal health workers, and visitors conducting health programs from Alice Springs. You may think this is a lot of staff for such a small community, but we were always busy. Patients would need to be evacuated to Alice Springs hospital at lease once a week. As it was my first placement at a remote health centre, I was amazed by how chaotic it felt, but despite this, the clinic managed to run preventative health programs, dispense weekly medication, deal with emergencies, and keep on top of regular health screening.

For me the highlight was definitely the wonderful people I met. They were strong, proud and very welcoming. Although there was a lot of sadness and violence in the community, there was a very positive feeling about overcoming this, and moving on.

What do you find most interesting about Indigenous Australian cultures?

The importance of Country. As a white girl, and a daughter of immigrants, I feel sorry that I can't call on Jukurrpa/dreaming/law to understand the world around me, because so much has been lost. When visiting Mimili in the APY lands of South Australia, I was shown special places we weren't allowed to walk on or photograph. It made me realise how many mountains back out east were probably equally sacred.

 

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