Sarita Lawler
Sarita Lawler

Sarita Lawler

Indigenous Health Scholarship

Flinders University, Darwin NT

Doctor of Medicine
Scholarship Awarded 2018 – 2022

Sponsored by:
Rotary Club of Darwin South/Dr King Gan

Indigenous Health Scholarship Program

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

As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander I have experienced, both within my family, and otherwise, the common issues and disadvantages our people face when it comes to health. Critical moments for me have included supporting family members, especially those with terminal and chronic conditions, in accessing health services, and realizing how helpless and detached they have felt regarding their own circumstances, despite being (tick the box) informed of their situations. And, how reluctant to ask questions and seek clarification they have been, without (and sometimes even with) the support of a significant other who may or may not have a clear of grasp the situation themselves.

I am motivated by the prospect of advocating for and enabling fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to make more informed decisions about their health rather than being part of a treatment-based approach, which I feel is too common, especially in Aboriginal and Torres Strait island clients who do not necessarily understanding their condition and/or treatment. This is a major concern of mine and a I hope to contribute to, somewhat, the minimisation of this and other concerns regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. We know that known increasing Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders health workforce will lead to better health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and it is these improved health outcomes that I aspire to contribute to.

I believe that my life experience thus far will facilitate my ability to interact effectively with other patients/clients, their families or significant others and other health professionals when practicing medicine. Furthermore, being a positive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander role model to the next generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who aspire to work in the field of health, by my maintaining my connection with schools, and incorporating a preventive healthcare and health education approach in my future roles is something that excites me.

Upon the successful completion of my studies I plan on staying in the Northern Territory. I anticipate that this will help me to gain further valuable experience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health as well as other areas of health. I hope that doing so will allow me to work in rural and remote communities for health services providing care for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I have worked and lived in rural and remote settings previously and they were truly positive, and life changing experiences and I look forward to more in the field of medicine.

Ultimately my ambition is to see and be part of a healthier future for my people. To promote the importance of people making and being involved in their own health choices, having clearly understood their circumstance. And to promote medicine as an obtainable career path for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Current Progressive Report

Semester One was spent entirely at Royal Darwin Hospital with placements in the Emergency Department, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Palliative Care.

Again COVID 19 had some impact on my placement experiences as well as my assessments. My first exam of the year has been postponed until November as my son had COVID when the exam was on and I was in isolation with him. As such my academic reads as “Incomplete” for this semester. I already have additional assessment this year due to assessment issues last year and this means that on top of my assessment requirements that are already double everyone else’s, my academic year is now even longer and needless to say this is taking much more mental strength to be motivated to study. On a positive note I have passed all of the other requirements for Semester One. In the Emergency Department it meant that any patients with COVID symptoms were sent to an isolation zone which students were not allowed to enter. Unfortunately, this meant that I had little exposure to most respiratory and cardiovascular presentations. As someone who learns more effectively from seeing patients with conditions rather than reading about them this means that I will now focus even more attention on these systems in my theory-based revision to address any gaps in knowledge. Staff shortages due to COVID during my Paediatrics term meant we were given more responsibility on ward rounds. This was a great experience as some of the tasks that we will assume as junior doctors I now have a deeper understanding in. Thankfully department-based teaching was not affected and has been very conducive to my learning this semester. Many of the teachings focus on case presentations which again is one of my preferred learning styles. Obstetrics and Gynaecology had a very extensive teaching component, and it was very useful for exam preparation.

Palliative Care was a very humbling experience. I feel refreshed having completed the placement as the level of care was amazing. My goal for my placement in Palliative Care was to observe and practice communication around difficult conversations such as the end-of-life process. All the Doctors and Nurses were amazing and this and I aspire to be able to communicate such topics as empathetically and efficiently as they all did. At present I have a keen interest in General Practice training eventually and I know that Palliative Care is a subspecialty within the field of General Practice, and it may be something I will look into in the future. From conversations with family and friends, discussion around end of life is often not talked about or not even thought about and I think that if more people knew more about the role of Palliative Care there would be a little less unease around this sensitive area. I very much enjoyed the learning opportunity in Palliative Care and hope to have the privilege to choose an elective rotation in Palliative Care as an Intern.

As per normal I have been utilizing tutors as much as possible as well as accessing mental health support by means of Psychologist utilizing my mental health care plan and a coach/mentor through the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association.

I am looking forward to Semester Two with my vacation term plus placements in Ophthalmology and Anaesthetics confirmed and my last placement yet to be finalised.

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