MORE than half of Indigenous medical students and doctors in Australia have experienced racism or discrimination on a weekly basis, a Hunter-educated leader in Indigenous cancer research says.
Professor Gail Garvey has used a keynote lecture at the University of Newcastle during NAIDOC Week to praise the “successful and empowering” work of its Indigenous medical education program, while highlighting the need to create more culturally-safe environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island medical students and doctors across Australia.
Professor Garvey said the university’s trailblazing medical program – which had graduated 95 doctors – was a successful step towards improving the health and well-being of all Australians, but particularly vulnerable Indigenous communities.
“If you have health professionals who can effectively communicate with a patient, they are absolutely going to get the best outcomes possible,” she said.
Professor Garvey, a Kamilaroi woman from NSW and senior fellow at the Menzies School of Health Research, said we needed to embrace the successes to date, but continue monitoring and evaluating current policies and practice.
“The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association conducted a survey recently, and of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students and doctors in Australia, 60 per cent had reported experiencing racism or discrimination on a weekly basis,” she said.
Being aware of the isolation sometimes felt by Indigenous students and doctors could have a “significant impact” on how they progressed through medical programs, or how comfortable they felt in the workforce.
Professor Garvey recommended high school career advisers learn more about special entry programs for Indigenous students, as some graduates had been discouraged from medicine.
“They need to be realistic, of course, but also supportive, and look at how they can help the student to achieve their dreams rather than cut them down.”