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AMA lends support to build the Indigenous health workforce

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As a 13-year-old, James Chapman watched his father, a proud Indigenous man from Yuwlaaraay country, die after a short, seven-week battle with acute myeloid leukaemia. As a school leaver, he became his mother’s carer for 12 months as she recovered from brain surgery.

Today, the 25-year-old, second-year medical student has won the 2017 AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship – $10,000 a year for each year of study – to help him pursue his dream of becoming a medical professional.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon, who presented the Scholarship at the AMA National Conference in Melbourne said that Mr Chapman’s story was inspiring. 

Dr Gannon believes the award is important because Indigenous people have improved health outcomes when they are treated by Indigenous doctors and health professionals. This is highlighted by the need to build the building the Indigenous health workforce where in 2017, there are just 281 medical practitioners employed in Australia as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – representing 0.3 per cent of the workforce.

Mr Chapman said that while he did not realise it at the time, his father was a victim of the gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians when he saw firsthand communities with access only to a visiting doctor and nurse.

He dreamed of one day becoming a doctor, but was discouraged by his teachers.  As a young student at the University of Wollongong his study was derailed when his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and he became her carer for a year while she recovered.

“Constantly in clinical environments, my dream of becoming a medical professional became more intense, and after my mother recovered, I began a Science degree with the intention of completing post graduate medicine,” Mr Chapman said.

Now in his second year, Mr Chapman intends to study from Wagga Wagga from his third year onwards to experience rural health, and rural and remote Indigenous health care. He hopes to become a GP, working with Indigenous women and children in rural and remote Australia.

Dr Gannon said that, in 2017, a total of 286 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students are enrolled across all year levels across Australia. However, four of the 15 colleges are yet to have an Indigenous trainee.

“The AMA Scholarship has assisted many Indigenous men and women, who may not have otherwise had the financial resources to study medicine, to graduate to work in Indigenous and mainstream health services,” Dr Gannon said.

The AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship was established in 1994 with a contribution from the Commonwealth Government. The AMA is looking for further sponsorships to continue this important contribution to Indigenous health.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, go to advocacy/indigenous-peoples-medical-scholarship

Meredith Horne