Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students get taste for studying medicine

Six prospective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have undertaken a Preparation for Medicine program (PMP) in Darwin through Flinders University.

Flinders University offers three pathways into Medicine: the undergraduate pathway via Charles Darwin University, the graduate entry pathway, and the graduate entry Indigenous Entry Stream (IES).

The 10-day program provides opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates interested in studying Flinders’ Doctor of Medicine (MD) to enter through the IES pathway for studying in the NT Medical Program (NTMP) or in South Australia.

As of 2021, 150 students have graduated from the NTMP with 92 per cent of graduates being Territorians.

The NTMP, jointly funded by the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth Department of Health through the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program has graduated 15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors since 2011 – with a further 10 students currently in the program.

The prospective students have spent their time in the Top End gaining an insight into studying medicine, meeting Flinders’ staff and students, as well as ensuring they are prepared to begin the degree should they take up the challenge.

Zarah Carroll is interested in studying medicine through the NTMP.The PMP is run in collaboration with Flinders staff in the Northern Territory, MD staff from Adelaide, and Yunggorendi – Flinders’ student engagement office.

Students have spent their time at Flinders, learning clinical skills, sitting in on lectures, and anatomy sessions in the purpose-built lab.

The students were also linked into the support networks available to help them if they pursue studying medicine.

Dr Emma Kennedy Director of the NTMP says more Indigenous doctors are needed and programs like this give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students a feel for what studying medicine could be like.

“The Preparation for Medicine Program gives Indigenous students an understanding of the commitment to study medicine while also providing a support network which they can draw upon if they undertake the degree,” Dr Kennedy says.

Dr Kennedy says the program also introduces students to the opportunities available when studying at Flinders University.

“Students who undertake the medicine degree at Flinders University can complete a range of placements in the NT including, Nhulunbuy, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, and Darwin,” she says.

“The NTMP also has a robust program that highlights the importance of cultural safety within the medical field.”

Associate Professor Karla Canuto, an accomplished Torres Strait Islander academic located in Darwin said the program helped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students realise a career in medicine.

“Having an alternative pathway into medicine for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students removes the barriers of sitting the GAMSAT exams.” she says.

“The Indigenous Entry Stream also gives students some practical experience to allow them to make a more informed decision about taking on the degree, which is a massive four-year commitment.”

Prospective student Zarah Carroll is hoping to study medicine through the NTMP. She is finishing off her honours in clinical exercise physiology and hopes to begin her post-graduate Doctor of Medicine in Darwin next year.

She says the PMP has been helpful in preparing her for what a week as a medical student would entail.

“It has been very good and insightful into what we do and how we do it. So, we have been introduced to labs, the lectures and stuff like that,” Zarah says.

“I’ve always had a passion for health sciences and helping people, so I thought why not give it a crack and just see how we go.”

After the 10-day on-site program in Darwin, the six prospective students will embark on the Flinders University Extended Learning in Sciences (FUELS) on-line program, the next step in the Indigenous Entry Stream. Once complete, they are ready to decide to take the next step on their journey to becoming a doctor.

Professor Robyn Aitken, Dean Rural and Remote Health says Flinders is looking forward to these outstanding students joining the program and graduating as the next generation of rural and remote doctors.

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