Sophie Heath
Sophie Heath

Sophie Heath

Indigenous Health Scholarship

Deakin University, VIC

Doctor of Medicine
Scholarship Awarded 2020 – 2022

Sponsored by:
Rotary Club of Swan Hill

Indigenous Health Scholarship Program

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

I have always been extremely passionate about health as it is an essential component to quality of life. But it was not until I experienced a number of personal adverse circumstances that placed me in a very detrimental situation, that I really was able to appreciate how far backward different hardships can place someone. I am privileged and live a blessed life – which is evident in being able to study at a Master’s level, and while I continue to work through adverse circumstances, I am so grateful and want to give back because no one should be left behind. In a country with as much wealth as Australia, it really is not acceptable to have such a significant population difference in health outcomes for those from Indigenous backgrounds.

At an individual I want to where possible work with and within local Aboriginal Health Services. As relocation is often necessary throughout training this would be variable based on location. I think these services are some of the best equipped to effectively meet the Indigenous community needs.

Furthermore, I intend to utilise my background in business and my eventual medical degree to work towards achieving a standardised level of care and health targets that is delivered in a manner that is culturally sensitive and competent, recognising the heterogenic nature of different communities and catering to their unique needs.

Whilst we work towards recruiting and training Indigenous doctors to at least reflect population parity, I also want to work on building partnerships and creating allies from the mainstream population. Effective education and cultural awareness training are key to building genuine understanding and capable healthcare workers.

Evidence suggest that Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations have greater uptake in the provision of services including healthcare to the Indigenous population. Furthermore, it is continuously documented the importance of self-determination and empowering the people through participation and local ownership. We need to work with communities and in collaboration to improve efficiency, with greater transparency and accountability to build trust.

Systems at the doctor-patient level need to embody cultural acceptability for effective uptake and better health outcomes for the Indigenous population. This then has to extend throughout the systems and cover all points of patient care – from practices, hospital structure and policies through to specialist colleges, medical boards and government agencies. Strategies – long term with stepwise planing, that will withstand changes in government, staffing and adapt with the population’s needs. We know it is complex, it will require a multifaceted comprehensive approach at all levels and will take time but I believe this has significant potential for sustainable change. I hope through my career progression, to position myself as an advocate in working towards such goals with perhaps eventual accreditation through the College of Administrators. We need our people to have greater representation so that we can have some control and input into decisions.

Current Progressive Report

It has been an extremely hectic and fast-paced year. For the fourth and final of year of the medicine degree, there is a lot to fit in. The placements were Anesthetics and ICU; Emergency Medicine; General Practice; Psychiatry; and Aged Care, Palliative Care and Rehabilitation. Like many people, the easing of restrictions and increasing socialising face-to-face saw me experience several different infections. That really was difficult because I am normally get one bad viral illness in winter in a year. So, this really made it challenging to keep up and then catch up with missed clinical time.

I myself, managed to attend PRIDOC in Vancouver in July 2022 along with two of the other Deakin Indigenous medical students. It was such an empowering and inspiring experience. Which following two years of separation due to Covid was such a strengthening opportunity to connect with culture and community.

Furthermore, I have been undertaking a cadetship in my breaks throughout 2022. It is a placement at Rumbalara, the Aboriginal Health Service in Shepperton. It has also connected me with a range of other networks including VACCHO and the broader network of Aboriginal medical services across Victoria. This has also been a really valuable opportunity to experience what rural work in an Aboriginal health service is like. It has added so much to my own personal knowledge and skill set. It also has significantly contributed to my continued interest in pursing the GP specialty pathway. As well as future ambitions to work in some capacity within these services. The GP shortage and the extremely limited access to specialists that rural towns face really appeals to my own future career goals.

Finally, the most significant and exciting part. Internship applications for 2023 jobs opened and offerings came out. I got my first preference of the Western hospital in Sunshine, Melbourne. There were many factors which ultimately saw me preferencing this hospital but predominately it is about its location. It is a peripheral hospital that is expanding in a lower SES population region. I myself, previously lived in Footscray so there was familiarity as well. But given the range of specialty offerings it means I can still keep my options open with regard to specialty pathways and I also feel that there is greater opportunity for me to undertake work in the western regional hubs such as Ballarat and Bendigo in the future.

After completing two clinical years in Ballarat, I honestly cannot rate it highly enough. The hospital is such a supportive place to undertake training. It is important to experience a range of different hospitals as you train and most training pathways have that built into them – changing locations for a certain period of time. I definitely hope to return in the future, depending on where my career progresses.

Anyway, for the next month it is nothing but revision. Final exams are in October. And whilst I am trying to maintain a positive confident mindset, there has been a lot of vague information conveyed to us about our assessments this year. So, I am just looking forward to a Christmas back home visiting my family in Canberra, back home on my Ngunnawal Country.

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