Q&A: Dr Murray Haar, 2010 AMA Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarship winner
Dr Murray Haar is a Wiradjuri man who is currently working at Albury Base Hospital. He won the Australian Medical Association Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarship in 2010. In the lead up to the next round of scholarships being awarded, he reflects on how it helped him and what it’s like being an Indigenous doctor in Australia.
What’s your background and how did you decide you wanted to be in medicine.
I grew up in Punchbowl in Sydney’s south west and I had always wanted to study medicine. I was fortunate enough to go to the UNSW Winter School in years 10 and 12 which spurred my interest. I have always been interested in mental health and hope to specialise in psychiatry.
What was your path to medicine?
I went straight from high school into the medical degree at UNSW in 2008. In that time, I had a year away from study where I worked full time at the Kirketon Road Centre, part of what is known as the ‘injecting centre’ in Kings Cross. There my duties involved engaging with clients in health promotion, needle syringe program, groups and sexual health triage.
I completed my degree in 2014 which had six Indigenous doctors in the graduating class, one of the biggest groups in Australian medicine. I am now doing an internship and residency at Albury Base Hospital which is the county of my father’s people, the Wiradjuri nation.
What area of medicine interests you the most?
I want to do psychiatry to enable me to work in addiction medicine. I have been able to complete a term in psychiatry at Albury and most of my relief term was based in Nolan House, an adult inpatient unit. This experience has really enabled me to work in the area where I feel I have the most potential to make a significant difference in patient care.
Patients with a mental illness are amongst the most disadvantaged people in the community. Psychiatry can play such a powerful role to improve the lives of patients, families and communities.
How did the AMA Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarship help you in your studies?
You need real dedication to study medicine, class contact is five days a week, and there’s heaps of study and preparation after hours. Receiving the scholarship from third year onwards helped me give my studies everything I’ve got, particularly in the last year.
I also got some great help from the UNSW’s Indigenous Unit, Nura Gili which specifically helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with academic support and assistance navigating the university world.
What advice would you give other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who are thinking of studying medicine?
Don’t listen to anyone who discourages you. There is plenty of support for you, from the university, from scholarships and from other Indigenous doctors. There is improvement in the state of Indigenous health, but the gap is still wide. It’s really important that we play our part in closing it.
What has your experience been of being an Indigenous doctor so far? Are there any unique challenges or advantages?
I am incredibly privileged to be an Aboriginal doctor, particularly when looking after an Aboriginal patient with whom I can empathise and form an instant connection and understanding through our unique appreciation of family and connectedness. The challenges can be tough at time as the workplace is like any other and not free of racism or bullying.
How do you think your perspective or your path to medicine has differed as an Indigenous man?
I feel as an Aboriginal doctor you bring a unique perspective to the practice of medicine. With a set of values and respect for family, land and spirituality and an understanding of the health disparity of our peoples compared to the rest of Australians. There is still much work to be done to close the gap, but more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors will go a long way to help this.
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