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Rural Health West sponsored two Curtin University medical students to attend the 2022 Pacific Region Indigenous Doctors Congress (PRIDoC) held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

PRIDoC is an Indigenous-led space for Indigenous physicians, residents and medical students, health researchers, health professionals and allies. PRIDoC provides an opportunity for discussion around shared issues of concern related to the health and wellness of the many Indigenous communities and nations throughout the Pacific region.

Daisy Alps
Second-year medical student at Curtin University – Quandamooka Ngugi woman from Mulgumpin (Moreton Island)

I’ve always wanted a role where I can build relationships with people and make a difference to individuals and communities that have fewer opportunities. In my personal life, I work with children in the foster care system and have witnessed first-hand the difference love and care can make in people’s lives. As an Aboriginal woman, being a doctor gives you more of a voice and an influence to create change within the healthcare system to improve health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.

In my experience volunteering as a surf lifesaver, the part I was most interested in was the medical aspect of it and, since then, I’ve always been interested in science and pathology. Medicine has provided me with a hands-on career, where I can create the change I want to see in an area I’m passionate about. I endeavour to eventually work in rural and remote communities in Australia
as it is there where the inequities in healthcare access and education are exemplified the most.

Through Curtin’s focus on rural healthcare, and my position as the ‘Indigenous representative’ in the Curtin Rural Outreach Health Club (CROHC), there are opportunities for me to create change whilst still in medical school. Our rural high school visits where we discuss pathways into medicine have already proven to increase the number of applications by rural and Indigenous students into Curtin’s Medicine program.

In the future, I hope to see an even larger number of Indigenous medical students so we have better representation of Indigenous peoples within the medical field.

Jaaron Davis
Second-year medical student at Curtin University – Kalkadoon, Waanji and Eastern Arrernte man from Mount Isa

I grew up in Broome and around the communities in the Kimberley. I understand just how important health is in these areas. My people face a more significant health service limitation than those living in the cities. I believe my upbringing was a significant factor that influenced me to pursue a career in medicine. My parents both worked for the health of our people. Witnessing them fight for my people’s health and impacting the health of communities inspired me to become a doctor. I constantly reflect upon the health of my people, which greatly upsets me to think that they are disadvantaged in this country.

I love connecting with my people and can feel the hurt and intergenerational trauma they have experienced. Since childhood, I could say that I’ve always been an observer and a listener. I had always enjoyed listening to my family and elders’ conversations. In the future, I would like to do the same thing, listen to and understand the problems and stories of my people,
having the responsibility for their health.

I joined CROHC as an ‘Indigenous Student Representative’ to form a supportive network for our Indigenous medical students at Curtin, and to reach out to young Indigenous, high school students to let them know that “you can do it too”.

This position has also allowed me to demonstrate to my peers in medical school about our culture and just how important Indigenous medical students and doctors are to Indigenous health in Australia.

I see myself working as a consultant within Aboriginal communities in the future, inspiring the next generation to become young Aboriginal doctors, a vision our ancestors had fought for.

Daisy and Jaaron’s experience at PRIDoC 2022

We were struck by how similar the trauma and inequities faced by Indigenous peoples was around the world. It was discussed that it takes seven generations to create change and that the intergenerational trauma Canada and America’s Indigenous peoples experienced in response to their residential school system (an atrocity scarily similar to our peoples’ experiences of the stolen generation) was an ongoing issue in the health and welfare of their people. Inadequate access to education and healthcare was also a common theme with schools on the Canadian Indigenous Reserves having lower standards of education, and greater distances to travel to access healthcare.

It was an amazing opportunity for us to meet and hear from inspiring Indigenous doctors and medical students. Hearing their experiences and learning about their beautiful cultures it was encouraging to feel like this was a cause we were all fighting for, and we had support and community all around the world. Across the board, it was acknowledged that the most change was going to come from seeing representation of our peoples in the healthcare system. Medical schools across the planet had programs and agreements put in place to set aside places for Indigenous students and improve Indigenous education within medical schools.

It was also proposed that Indigenous medical students should be given further education into traditional medicines and languages of their peoples and how these could be used and potentially be incorporated alongside western medicine.

A Māori doctor who had experience working as a doctor within Australia’s healthcare system gave credit to the competitiveness of our rural healthcare placements within medical school and the merit and monetary compensation doctors working rurally received – stating that working rurally was being marketed as a more and more enticing option for doctors and health professionals, creating positive change.

We gained so much from this experience, but three key take-home messages we took away were:

1. To create change, we need to see more representation of our people within the medical system. Currently, in Australia the number of Indigenous doctors is not representative of the population. However, we want to aim higher than this as the inequity Indigenous peoples face in education, healthcare and incarceration are far higher than that of the broader population.

2. Indigenous peoples should not only be included in the western medical system, but also our cultures and viewpoints. Appreciation of our cultural views and practices, and knowledge of our languages and traditional medicines are all steps in the right direction for closing the gap.

3. Change should be driven by the wants and needs of our communities, not from the western medical point of view. All positive change we saw in response to COVID-19 within our communities was driven by leaders in our community providing education, access and events that actually connected with and served our people.

Acknowledgement of Country