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07 Nov 2018

Walytjangku kanyinytjaku Anangu tjuta ipilypa kanyira atunymankunytjaku

(Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands – a Pitjantjatjara quote)

 

As a young Aboriginal child, growing up in the remote areas of Alice Springs, I became prematurely aware of mortality and the health disparities facing my people living in Central Australia. The cycle of funerals and visiting family members seeking medical care made me realise the gravity of people’s poor health and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

My passion for wanting to help my community and people are as old as my earliest memories. But my determination to study medicine evolved later in my life. As a child I grew up without any exposure or knowledge of Aboriginal people working in the medical workforce. I didn’t realise it was an option for me or for my people, which is not so surprising when you look at the statistics. Indigenous Australians currently make up approximately three per cent of the Australian population, but only 0.3 per cent of the Australian medical workforce.

The catalyst for pursuing medicine was during my nursing student placements back home in Alice Springs, where I became more aware of the greater need for Aboriginal students and clinicians in healthcare, particularly in Central Australia. The contrast between clinicians and patients is amplified in settings such as Alice Springs Hospital, where patients are predominately Aboriginal people with strong, active culture and English is not a primary language. This stark contrast in clinicians and patients is an isolating and intimidating experience for many Aboriginal patients of Central Australia.

Joining the medical force was one part of my journey, solving real issues is another. The significant gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a national disgrace that must be tackled by all levels of Government, the private and corporate sectors, and all segments of our community. It’s evident that Indigenous people have a greater chance of improved health outcomes when they are treated by Indigenous doctors and health professionals. My people speak Pitjantjatjara as our primary language and this makes patient comprehension, of what already is complex for many, an additional barrier to greater patient outcomes. During elective rotations in Alice Spring Hospital as a medical student, I noticed frequent cultural misunderstandings and a strong language gap between the patients and the doctors. This was the beginning of Kapulpa Pikatjara Nyinantja (living with chronic kidney disease), which is a Pitjantjatjara patient education resource. It utilises key Pitjantjatjara colloquial phrases to disseminate patient information on managing chronic kidney disease and delivered in a Pitjantjatjara context. 

During my fourth and final year of study, I was awarded the 2018 AMA Indigenous Medical Student Scholarship, which was awarded partly due to Kapulpa Pikatjara Nyinantja. It helped me complete my studies and further developed my Pitjantjatjara patient education resources project as well as being exposed to leaders in the medical community.

As a future clinician servicing an area that suffers some of the worst health rates in Australia, I want to serve the community not only as a doctor, but as an educator to my people. I hope to inspire local school kids to pursue professions in health care, so we can help look after our people of Central Australia.

 

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Published: 07 Nov 2018