Thirty-one students including the largest cohort of Indigenous students will graduated as doctors on Monday, December 13 from Flinders University’s Northern Territory-based Medical Program (NTMP).
The graduating students will bring the total locally trained doctors to more than 150 since the NTMP commenced in 2011. The six graduating Indigenous students builds on the nine Indigenous doctors who have graduated so far and will represent 10 per cent of all graduates.
Of these graduates, 92 per cent are Territorian and more than half have remained in the Territory once their return of service obligation has been completed.
Indigenous woman Nikki Burnett, a soon-to-be mum of four graduated in front of family and friends at the Darwin Convention Centre, proud of her accomplishments.
Ms Burnett never finished high school and began working in the mental health sector before completing a Bachelor of Nursing and then moving onto her Doctor of Medicine through Flinders University’s NT Medical Program.
She’s proud to have forged her own path – breaking down barriers – and hopes other Indigenous women and mothers consider a career in health.
“I know that for me, I was always seeking out role models or looking for people that I could relate to whether it was by culture way or whether it was being a woman or a mother,” Ms Burnett said.
“So I think being an Indigenous woman who has children and had little children, to get through the course, I hope that it might encourage other people who might be on the fence.
“I think reaching for something is a lot easier when you can see people other people around that have achieved it too.
“I feel pretty proud that I’ve managed this journey, and I hope that it might encourage generations below me to, pursue a career in healthcare or even just higher education.”
Anna Walmsley, a former electrical engineer in the Air Force, decided to study medicine after moving her young family to Ramingining and taking up a job driving the ambulance at night.
Spurred on to help the community, Ms Walmsley decided to hit the books as a mature-aged student studying in the NT Medical Program.
“Medicine was something that I’d thought about for a long time and out at Ramingining the itch it needed to be scratched,” she said.
For Ms Walmsley studying was a family sacrifice, with them having to move to Darwin for her studies.
“It’s been a real family journey, they’ve had to deal with me studying and long hours away from them, my husband is a pilot, and they’d have to come into uni with me while I’ve had to study,” she said.
“My kids have been to a number of my lectures and practical days and been the test dummies and sat through my assessments.”
Ms Walmsley will complete her internship at Royal Darwin Hospital and hopes to return to Arnhem Land as a rural generalist in the future. She wrapped up her final six-week training block at Ramingining with a special graduation attended by the community.
“My family has a passion for working with Yolngu people and I’d like to come out here and work as a doctor one day,” she said.
NT Medical Program Director and Local GP, Flinders University Associate Professor Emma Kennedy said she was proud to see this Northern Territory-based cohort of students graduate, ready and eager to contribute to the Territory’s health workforce.
“While medicine is always a tough degree, Covid has added a whole layer of complexity which has made it more challenging and these students have been resilient enough to navigate that and it is a testament to them and their tenacity,” Associate Professor Kennedy said.
She said the doctors would contribute to the local workforce with a clear understanding of the unique challenges and needs the NT health sector faced.
She also congratulated the largest graduating cohort of Indigenous students and acknowledged the vital role First Nations people in health roles played in improving health outcomes for Indigenous people.
Friends and family have also gathered to celebrate the graduation of seven Flinders University students who have completed their studies in a range of fields including education, nursing, social work and business.
Professor Robyn Aitken, Dean Rural & Remote Health congratulated the graduates, acknowledging that, “seven graduates from other Flinders courses will join the ceremony including business graduates, nurses, teachers, social workers, and public health professionals, all who will contribute to the Northern Territory workforce.”
Associate Professor Narelle Campbell, who oversees a team supporting student placements, said, “Flinders has more than 20 years of on-the-ground presence in the Northern Territory supporting medical students from across Australia, and more than 600 allied health and nursing students undertaking placements each year, inspiring a range of essential health professional students to work in the Territory in the future”.