Indigenous Health Scholarship
Deakin University, VIC
Scholarship Awarded 2019
Rotary Club of Parramatta
How will I contribute to improving Indigenous health as a qualified medical practitioner or health worker?
After graduating university as a young Indigenous woman with a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (with Honours) and being on the Dean’s Merit List, I felt I needed to be a leader for Indigenous people and those living in rural areas. To do so, I spoke at an International Dietetic Conference about my journey getting into university, living rurally and being Indigenous. I advocated for these disadvantaged groups by sharing my personal experiences of getting into and completing university successfully. Not only did this educate people about support systems available, but it gives disadvantaged people hope. Had I not been motivated and made aware to seek help I would never have enrolled in university, let alone graduated with honours.
Once working as a Dietitian, I could see the prevalence of diabetes in the local community and the long waiting lists for people to be seen by a diabetes educator due to the lack of services in rural area. As one of the few Indigenous dietitians in Australia I could see the need for Indigenous diabetes educator and have since enrolled in the Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education so I can improve wait time and provide more culturally appropriate services in my rural area. The demand of Indigenous people being 3 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Indigenous Australian a driving force for me to become a diabetes education and I have always thrived on seeing past dietetic clients reach those life changing ‘light bulb’ moments in understanding the disease.
Current Progressive Report
This first semester of university has certainly been challenging. Just prior to commencing my distance education through Deakin University in February this year I moved from rural Taree NSW to Alice Springs in the NT to work in remote indigenous communities. After a 35-hour drive on my own to Alice Springs, the move itself has been quite a change but it is a lifestyle I’m very much enjoying. The people have been incredibly welcoming as its quite a transient population and as tourists often travel through on their way to Uluru/Darwin there are often weird but wonderful events being held here. Just this week we had the 23rd annual beanie festival (yes Alice Springs is very cold in winter), the Alice Springs Show (we get a public holiday just for it) and Territory Day (where the whole town let off their own fire crackers legally for 5 hours on that one day a year which was quite a spectacular sight to see).
Working remotely in indigenous communities that are 2-6 hours away from Alice has also been challenging when studying. At least half of my working weeks each month are based in remote communities which have no internet or phone service, so doing my university course online is impossible most of the time. Thankfully the content of the course has been highly useful in my current working role and I have learnt a lot about diabetes and its context in the general population but also in vulnerable populations such as the indigenous people of Australia. For example, the pathophysiology subject that I just completed and received a high distinction for had an assessment on the pathophysiology of diabetic nephropathy which is highly common in many of the Aboriginal population I see, contributing to much of the chronic kidney disease in this population group. I was also really interested to learn about appropriate use of verbal language regarding diabetes as per the position statement put out by Diabetes Australia. For example, it is inappropriate to call someone a diabetic/sufferer/patient as it can make a person feel defined by their health condition, instead the correct thing to refer to that person as is a person with diabetes. Another example is not referring to diabetes as a disease as that comes with negative connotations, almost like it is nasty or contagious, so the correct term is condition. There were quite a few of these examples that as a person without diabetes I had not realised how powerful everyday words can be and really enjoyed learning about it this semester.
I am really looking forward to finishing the course at the end of the next semester and gaining the additional knowledge that I will obtain doing the next stage of the course. I am very thankful for the first half of my scholarship ($2500) which I received last week as there is a 3-day face-to-face component of the course in Melbourne in mid-September and flights out of Alice Springs to Melbourne are close to $1000. This exciting hands-on practical portion of the course as one of the first things they demonstrate is the ‘’Felt Man’’ which is a resource I need to use in remote indigenous communities to educate individuals, groups and schools on chronic diseases such as diabetes. Receiving this scholarship has also enabled me to purchase a laptop computer ($1000) so next semester I will be able to try and download articles and course content, so I can study whilst working remotely more easily.