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Specialists sign up to Indigenous initiative

The nation’s specialist medical colleges will upgrade their curricula and identify Aboriginal medical trainees under a landmark agreement struck with the peak body of Indigenous doctors.

The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) and the Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges (CPMC) have signed a Collaboration Agreement that includes measures to support the training of Indigenous practitioners and to improve the ability of all doctors to work competently with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

AIDA Chief Executive Officer Romlie Mokak told Australian Medicine that the Agreement was one of a number of formal partnerships recently developed by his organisation with peak medical education and training organisations.

The announcement came as the nation’s governments missed a deadline to renew their commitment to closing the health gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the community, heightening concerns that recent gains made will be squandered.

The nation’s first $1.6 billion, five-year National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes expired in 30 June, and so far only the Commonwealth and Victoria have committed to a new five-year deal.

The failure of the many of the states to so far commit to a fresh Closing the Gap plan has come amid signs that an increasing number of Indigenous students are training to become doctors.

AIDA estimates there are currently around 175 Indigenous medical graduates and 300 Indigenous medical students.

Mr Mokak said that in the last two years Indigenous students had comprised 2.5 per cent of all medical school admissions, putting them at parity with their presence in the broader population.

“That would have been unheard of 10 years ago,” he said. “Over the next three to four years, as people graduate, we will see a steady rise in the number of Indigenous graduates.”

But Mr Mokak said increase in graduate numbers alone was not enough, and had to be accompanied by improved support for Indigenous students through pre-vocational and vocational training.

“Our focus is the whole continuum. We are not focused on a particular level of training or particular specialty,” he said. “Support for graduates at the junior doctor level is critical, [and] we want more people to know about pathways in specialist areas.”

 CPMC Chair Professor Kate Leslie said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors were “significantly under-represented” in the medical workforce, and all 15 specialist medical college Presidents are committed to leading the change with our partners AIDA”.

Under the Agreement, the Colleges will collate data on the number of Aboriginal trainees and practitioners within their ranks, and every year each College will send either its President or Chief Executive to spend time at an Indigenous health service, to gain first-hand experience of the conditions and challenges faced.

Mr Mokak said that, just as important as encouraging more Indigenous people into medical training was efforts to improve awareness of Indigenous culture, society and outlook among the broader medical community.

To help achieve this, AIDA is working with each College to upgrade their curricula by “providing guidelines for each speciality of things in the training of your Fellows which we would think would be necessary to know,” he said.

Mr Mokak said these initiatives could serve as an example of how to achieve improvements across a wide range of areas, not just medicine.

“If we get this agenda right in medicine, we are sending a significant message to the rest of the health system that if doctors are able to tackle these issues, it should be the same for all health professions, and all professions more broadly,” he said. “We see this as not only important work for medicine, but important work for the whole country.”

Adrian Rollins

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