Claudia McDermott
Claudia McDermott

Claudia McDermott

Indigenous Health Scholarship 2022

University of Western Australia, WA

Doctor of Medicine
Scholarship Awarded 2022

Sponsored by:
Rotary Club of Dalkeith

Indigenous Health Scholarship Program

How will I contribute to improving Indigenous health as a qualified medical practitioner or health worker?

2022 will be the beginning of my post graduate education in medicine and y the start of 2026 I will be a fully qualified Doctor. Four years is a lot of time for experiences and opportunities to occur in, so, while I have ideas of where I would like to apply myself, I am still staying open to what the future may bring.

An area of significant interest to me right now though, is women’s health. As a young Minjungbal woman of Yugambeh-Bundjalung Jugun from a rural area, I have struggled to access medical expertise by doctors who are willing to investigate and uncover the causes of my ill health. As a woman, too often our worries are dismissed and too often is the main solution for any ailment to ‘just go on the pill’. Despite this I am privileged as I have the ability and time to pursue other avenues and health professionals to help me. As a doctor I want to provide personalised care that genuinely finds and treats the root cause of illness rather than just band-aid the symptoms. I believe that, regardless of who or where you are, you should be able to access high quality, culturally and physically safe medical care. It is this vision tat makes me so passionate about Indigenous women being able to access such care preceding throughout and subsequent to childbirth for both her and her baby.

Unfortunately Indigenous mothers and their babies continue to experience poorer health outcomes before and after birth, particularly if they live in rural and remote areas. The systemic change required to improve the statistics and personal experiences of our women is not easily come by. Systemic change is the result of many individuals working together and I intend to add my qualifications and voice as a young Minjungbal woman to organisations such as Birthing on Country to be an advocate fro this change. Birthing on Country requires so many people in different capacities; doctors, researchers, advocates, and Indigenous woman themselves, with people working in inter sectional roles. The aim is to facilitate the return of the birthing process to Indigenous communities enabling culturally appropriate care specific of the mother, her mob and community traditions. There is hard evidence that the fostering of traditional birthing alongside medical checks and guidance helps ‘close the gap’ in both mental and physical health statistics, allowing families to connect with and preserve their traditions.

I know that wherever I end up as a health professional it is here that I want to make a change. Here being in the individual lives of those around me, and here being in the building blocks for tomorrow.

Current Progressive Report

I have just completed my 1st Semester of the 2nd year of the Doctor of Medicine (MD). Medicine does not do typical semesters, instead we do 1 unit worth 4 and after a theory block at the start of the year, we move through placements on different hospital wards through the year. This definitely doesn’t slow down the complementary theory though!

So far, I have completed the initial theory block, a surgical rotation and a psychiatry rotation. I really enjoyed in psych that we could spend a lot more time talking and being with individual patients, however I struggled with staying separate and not taking on the burden and emotions of people. In surgery I felt like it was a nice balance, as a student, of talking to people, doing procedures and seeing people improve dramatically in a short space of time – it was very gratifying.

My goal this semester in placements was to get the opportunity to suture a patient. Opportunities for students to scrub in and observe surgeries are plenty however as a junior student, the opportunity to get involved can be quite difficult as preference goes to senior students and junior doctors, and it also requires a consultant to have enough time to guide and observe you doing the procedure. At some hospitals the opportunities are plentiful and others, like my placement, were less so.

I was determined to get the opportunity to suture though and I achieved this through grasping every opportunity to scrub in that I could. I would try to be in the operating theatres for procedures big and small and as my peers’ interest in being in theatre waned, it meant there were more openings for me to go in and be involved. It took a lot of long days but one of the surgeons noticed my commitment and took the time to show me a box suturing technique and then guided me through the process of suturing a patient in theatre. I was so excited that my hands were nearly shaking (not helpful in theatre!) but it made my whole placement, and I was the only junior student in our group who got this opportunity.

Next semester I will be continuing placements in geriatrics, rheumatology and internal medicine (respiratory) wards. I am so excited to continue learning in the hospitals, applying knowledge, and doing practical procedures. Talking to real people and seeing how they are affected by disease but also by treatment is a very privileged position and to be able to be a friendly face in the madness of a hospital is a way I feel I can give back to the people who allow us to talk to them when they’re in such a vulnerable position. I am also looking forward to the AIDA (Australian Indigenous Doctors Association) med conference in September as it is such an amazing opportunity to yarn, network and learn.

Outside of my Study:
This year, as the UWA student representative of AIDA (Australian Indigenous Doctors Association), I went up to Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land to learn about traditional medicine from Yolgnu Matha Elders, help at Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation and medical practices in community and to learn more about a career in remote medicine. I’ve also planned events at UWA as the rep and will be attending their conference later this year.

I am incredibly excited to say I have applied to, and been accepted into, the Rural Clinical School and will be going up to Broome hospital next year to practice and learn medicine. I am so excited to have been accepted and am going to see if I can continue my work/cadetship by moving out of the DoH CAHS space and moving into the DoH WACHS space

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