Kimberley Dejong

Indigenous Health Scholarship 2018

University of Queensland, QLD
Doctor of Medicine
Scholarship Awarded 2018
Sponsored by:

Rotary Club of Toowong

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

I am a proud Indigenous woman, and during the last few years I have pursued deeper spiritual and cultural connections to my Indigenous heritage. My journey began in 2015 at the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, where I was tasked with undergoing research development and proposal planning, assessing the health and well-being of incarcerated Indigenous mothers and their children in the Queensland Prison System. This experience highlighted the disturbing gap in healthcare access, and the poor treatment of Indigenous women and children within the penitentiary system.

When I started Medicine, I looked for ways to appreciate my sense of self further, and so I became a member of the Australian Indigenous Doctor’s Association (AIDA). Attending their annual conferences and becoming a member of the Student Representative Council is just one of the ways I have decided to give back to the Indigenous population, because it is AIDA who taught me the importance of resilience in personal and cultural development. I believe that if you truly understand and respect yourself and your origins, you are able to extend your gaze towards others and relate to them. This concept will serve as the foundation for my practice as a health professional and will allow me to positively contribute to the health and well-being of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people.

With a deeper appreciation for my patients, particularly those whom I share cultural heritage, I will be able to provide a higher multi-system standard of care where cultural, spiritual and mental health is just as important as physical ailment. I promise to always see my patients as people, not treating them as a number or a case to be solved and for my patients to always feel involved in their own health care. Importantly, I will respect the cultural bounds by which Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander view the health system and will advocate for their needs by increasing mainstream understanding of cultural safety and sensitivity within the health workforce.

Current Progressive Report

2018 has been a tough year so far, both personally and academically. Recently, I have been diagnosed with a medical condition which has altered my life in countless ways. For quite some time I have felt off balance, not myself, not grounded. I now finally see clearer. It is a frightening thought that your psychological state can manipulate your body, mind and spirit – that you’re in the passenger seat while anxiety takes the wheel. It controls your every waking thought, sleep-wake cycle, mood and happiness. It creeps up on you gently, until the day you stop and contemplate “how did I get here?”. That’s the challenging thing about mental illness, you don’t know it’s there until it is.

As a health professional, I didn’t want it to be true due to stigmatisation and negative social perception. I wanted to continue going about my studies, assisting patients with their health care, while neglecting my own. Its only taken me two years to realise that I haven’t spent a single moment thinking about myself, or what I need to survive this rigorous degree. Only two years for me to seek professional help and unveil my vulnerability to those around me. It was a tough step to take I’ll admit. However, the moment I definitively accepted the torment living inside me, it no longer held all the cards and I was back in the game. I believe this is half the battle – recognising there is a problem.

Now that I have come to this realisation, I feel empowered to make significant changes to my mindset to positively cycle my thoughts and emotions. It will take considerable effort to reroute my nervous energy, but I am committed to making this work. I wanted to share this experience with you because it’s often an unspoken “taboo” topic amongst health professionals, and I refuse to be another doctor who can’t admit they are struggling. Admitting your weakness doesn’t make you weak, it takes incredible strength and courage.