NORTHERN TERRITORY residents will be able to undertake their entire medical training in Darwin, rather than studying the first 2 years of their degree in Adelaide.

Applications are being assessed for next year’s intake to the new NT Medical Program (NTMP) offered by Flinders University in partnership with Charles Darwin University. Construction of a $14 million building is underway to house the additional students.

NT residents will receive first preference. The program aims to recruit and train Indigenous Australians to become doctors in the territory, and to prepare doctors to work in rural and remote communities.

The new Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (BM BS) degree will be offered HECS-free and will see up to 40 doctors graduating each year, with 24 students in the first intake.

Doctors will be required to stay in the territory for their first 2 years’ work after graduation.

Professor Michael Lowe, Clinical Dean of the NT Clinical School, says because of the NT’s relatively small population and the small number of people wanting to study medicine, it would not have been possible to offer such a program without government support. “We have had a very positive response,” Professor Lowe says.

During the development of the 4-year program, it was decided that Indigenous Australians would be given the option of an alternative to sitting the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test.

Potential students can instead complete an application form, an interview and a bridging program. Professor Lowe says, as a result of this, Flinders University has also modified the way it selects Indigenous students in Adelaide.

To enable Territorians to study medicine straight from high school, the 4-year BM BS graduate entry course will also be offered as a double degree with a Bachelor of Clinical Sciences  course through Charles Darwin University.

Students who have successfully completed 2 years’ study can then move on to the BM BS.

Dr Della Yarnold, Indigenous Academic Facilitator for the NTMP, says the ability to study locally is crucial for attracting a greater number of Indigenous students.

Dr Yarnold says the option of an interview — rather than an exam for the graduate medical degree — is also significant.

“An interview allows the panel to get to know you. It can be hard to quantify on paper … that you are ready to study medicine.”

Dr Yarnold says when she was going through school, it was generally expected that Indigenous students would drop out by Year 10.

Dr Yarnold completed high school and went on to gain experience in a variety of areas, spanning policy work at the federal Department of Health and the Aboriginal Development Commission (later known as ATSIC), and time as an officer in the Army Reserve.

She was later accepted into a medical degree at the University of Newcastle through an Indigenous entry program.

Dr Yarnold says, “As an Aboriginal doctor, you can impact on the clinical environment and the policy and the community, so you can have a really broad impact on Aboriginal health. Especially when you’re asking them [Indigenous patients] to modify life factors, you can put it in context.”

This story was published  in MJA Careers on 6 September 2010.

Posted 13 September 2010

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