Four Indigenous medical students have graduated from The University of Western Australia (UWA) – the highest number in one year.
Dr Donna Bacon, Dr Kim Isaacs, Dr Marium Rind and Dr Jason King will work at Sir Charles Gairdner and Royal Perth Hospitals before engaging in rural and urban practices or taking up specialty studies.
UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Robson said the University was committed to Indigenous education.
“The fact that four of our Indigenous medical students have graduated this year represents a tremendous achievement on their part and exemplifies our commitment,” Professor Robson said.
“UWA’s Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health (CAMDH) has a 95 per cent success rate with medical students, compared with other Australian universities which can have much lower retention rates of between 40 and 60 per cent.”
Eleven Indigenous medical students have graduated through CAMDH since it was established 11 years ago as part of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
CAMDH senior lecturer Dr David Paul said there are currently 19 Indigenous medical students enrolled at UWA and it is anticipated that all of these will graduate over the next five to six years.
“Doing medicine is an achievable goal for Indigenous students,” Dr Paul said.
“The key obstacles to Indigenous students taking up tertiary studies are poor secondary school experiences and lack of background subjects.
“The reason for our success is that we offer alternative pathways to gain entries and alternative entry points.”
“In conjunction with the School of Indigenous Studies, we start by providing programs for Aboriginal school children from Years 8, 10 and 12, enabling them to think about medicine, dentistry and health sciences as future careers,” Dr Paul said.
“Students considering medicine are encouraged to do a five-week pre-medicine or pre-dentistry summer school and once they get into medicine, we provide them with strong support.
“This year’s graduates will help make health care services more accessible for Aboriginal people.
“CAMDH’s next focus is on Indigenous dental students. There are only four Indigenous dental students in Australia – two of them here at UWA. And we want to do even better,” Dr Paul said.
WA Health Director General Dr Neale Fong said WA Health welcomed the students to the public health system.
“Interns are an important part of our hospitals and health services and play an active role in shaping the public health service,” Dr Fong said.
“Next year there will be more than 180 interns working in the public health system – 25 more than in 2007 and 43 more than in 2005.”
Since 2005, there have been increasing intakes in undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses at UWA, along with a new medical school established at Notre Dame.
This will increase student intake from 172 students in 2003 to 267 students in 2010. Medical graduates will increase from 125 in 2006 to an expected 279 in 2009 and more than 300 in 2010.
“This is fantastic news for the community – it represents a significant increase in locally-trained medical staff and it will assist with current supply shortages in hospitals and service areas,” Dr Fong said.
Thirty-two year old Dr Jason King, who was born in Moora and attended school in Karratha and Perth, said he had always been interested in human biology and, because of illness in his family, had spent time in hospitals as a child.
“I would say to other young Indigenous people who might be thinking about a career in medicine, believe in yourself,” Dr King said.
“It is possible – there are ways of getting into medicine and there is lots of support. If you are really interested in it and are prepared to work hard, you can do it.
“I am interested in being an emergency physician but I would also like to get a handle on some of the health issues that affect Indigenous people, such as diabetes and kidney disease, which stem from their socio-economic background.
“I believe it is good for Indigenous patients to have a doctor who comes from a similar background and who can treat them with respect, and who can listen to them.”
There are more than 2,800 doctors (full-time equivalent) who work in the State’s public health system, around 900 more than in February 2001.
This year the Office of Aboriginal Health Scholarship program provided $120,000 in funding to Aboriginal students enrolled in a variety of courses including medicine, nursing, allied health, social work and Aboriginal health work.
The program aims to encourage Aboriginal students whilst studying. It is expected that following graduation, students will practise in Western Australia.
Department of Health 61 8 9489 2888
Dr David Paul (UWA) 61 8 6488 7084
Dr Jason King (UWA) 0408 941 996