If we’re serious about ‘closing the gap’, medical students need more than one lecture or study unit on Indigenous communities’ culture and health needs. The ANU Medical School has recognised this fact, but hasn’t just tried to ‘fit’ Indigenous culture into its curriculum. Instead, the curriculum has been adapted to the culture.
While all medical students gain a whole-of-curriculum perspective on Indigenous health, students in the Indigenous Health Stream are engaged in a greater cultural learning experience. They participate in clinical placements in Indigenous communities, work with Indigenous health-service providers and other organisations, and conduct an Indigenous health research project.
Ms Gaye Doolan, the Medical School Indigenous Health Project Coordinator, says the stream provides students with an experience that will “make them better doctors at the end”, with greater empathy and understanding of the issues affecting Aboriginal people.
“The students that apply for the Indigenous Health Stream come from a range of backgrounds,” says Ms Doolan, who is an Aboriginal Elder on campus that colleagues and students in the stream call ‘Aunty’.
“Some people have a lot of knowledge of Indigenous issues, while there are others that say, ‘honestly, I don’t know anything, but I have this desire to learn’.”
The stream’s first student, who graduated two years ago, received the LIME (Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education) ‘Student of the Year’ award when she was in her final year of studies.
“She was a non-Indigenous student up against Indigenous students from New Zealand and Australia—that’s quite a big thing, because the award usually goes to Indigenous students,” Ms Doolan explains.
“She was running homework groups for Indigenous kids. She went rural. She did far more than what the Indigenous Health Stream had asked of her.”
Ms Samia Goudie, Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Health and also an Aboriginal woman, says the stream encourages students to think about the value of Indigenous culture and knowledge systems, particularly in terms of healthcare delivery.
The students are encouraged to conduct research projects that have a direct benefit to Indigenous communities. For instance, they collaborate with a broad range of community organisations and service providers, including Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service in Canberra, to evaluate the effectiveness of various programs.
“The feedback we get from groups we do research projects with is that the broader community starts to know what we are doing; we’re not just the ‘medical school over there’,” Ms Goudie says.
One of the really positive aspects of the Indigenous Health Stream, from a student’s perspective, is that there is a ‘community of learning’, which allows them to share experiences and form strong friendships.
“We’ve all got something to share and learn, and there’s respect for other people’s knowledge. For us, as Aboriginal people, treating others properly is a really important aspect of our culture and wellbeing.”