New grads help address NT doctor shortage, strengthen communities


Twenty-four newly minted doctors will be a welcome boost to the Northern Territory health workforce when they graduate today with a Doctor of Medicine from the Flinders University NT Medical Program.

Graduating in front of family and friends today at the Darwin Convention Centre, the students will begin their careers as doctors at health services across the NT after completing four years of study.

The Territory-based medical program, which preferences Territory residents and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, has graduated almost 200 doctors including 18 Indigenous doctors since commencing in 2011. Graduates are required to work in the NT for a period as part of their return of service obligations, with more than half staying beyond this to undertake GP training and specialties such as Psychiatry.

Among the group of graduates today is Karlie James who has had to face a parent’s worst nightmare while undertaking her studies.

Sitting in the crowd of proud family and friends will be Ms James’ son who is in remission from leukaemia. Days were spent in classes then rushing to Royal Darwin Hospital to be by his side while he received chemotherapy.

Ms James said she was determined to become a doctor and show her four children what perseverance and hard work can achieve. With an undergraduate degree at Charles Darwin University, Ms James decided she wanted to pursue medicine and entered the Flinders NTMP through the Indigenous Entry Pathway.

“My kids are pretty proud they’ve grown up with me on a laptop and studying,” says Ms James.

“They’re the most patient kids you’d ever meet, they definitely know that I’m going to be finishing and I’m going to be a doctor, so they’re pretty excited about that.”

Ms James hopes to become a GP – working to help her community and remote areas to improve health outcomes, as well as inspire other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to consider a career in health.

“I’m always trying to encourage our mob, to get them to get into the field, if that’s something that they are interested in doing,” she says.

Hard work and determination have also led Jasper Hutt to where he is now. Working three days a week from midnight to 8am as an assistant baker and then heading to a full day of classes often meant Mr Hutt was pulling long days to make ends meet and achieve his goal of becoming a doctor.

The NTAFL boundary umpire is a passionate sportsman and years ago noticed that there was a lack of sports doctors in the NT. Spurred on to help his community and mix his passion of sport with medicine, he plans to one day specialise as a sports doctor or GP with a speciality in sport medicine.

The Territorian, who completed a Bachelor of Nursing at CDU before joining the NTMP, encouraged other people thinking about a career in health to give it a go.

“I think it’s a real opportunity to give back to others,” says Mr Hutt.

“It’s a lot of hard work, determination and sacrifice as well. A little bit of sacrifice, but it definitely will be worth it in the end if you’ve got a passion for helping others.”

Flinders remains focussed on growing the local workforce and today more than 80 staff work across its campuses in Larrakia land (Darwin); Yolngu land (Nhulunbuy); Jawoyn, Wardaman and Dagoman land (Katherine); Warumungu land (Tennant Creek); and Arrernte land (Alice Springs), providing education, training, facilitating placements for allied health and nursing students and undertaking research.

NT Medical Program Director Associate Professor Emma Kennedy said she was proud to see this Northern Territory-based cohort of students graduate and make a positive contribution to the Territory’s health workforce.

“While medicine is always a tough degree, our students have excelled despite COVID adding a whole layer of complexity during the majority of their studies,” says Associate Professor Kennedy.

“The Northern Territory Medical Program is producing highly capable doctors who go on to make a difference to their community. We have students who hail from right across the Territory, including Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy, who in the future, we hope will return to their hometowns thereby creating a workforce of locals.

“I commend each of our medical graduates on their success and hope that all continue to strive to make a positive impact in their community and provide vital health care to Territorians.”

Flinders University’s Dean of Rural and Remote Health Professor Robyn Aitken said the University was committed to boosting the rural and remote health workforce – providing a full paramedicine degree in the Northern Territory, and postgraduate studies in remote nursing and allied health. Staff across campuses in Darwin, Katherine, Nhulunbuy, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs also support more than 700 university students to undertake health placements in the Territory.

“We are growing a local workforce, with research indicating 63 percent of NTMP graduates take up junior doctor positions in the NT,” says Prof Aitken.

“These students understand the rich and diverse culture of the NT and we are proud to be graduating doctors who will make a positive difference to the Territory healthcare system.”

Discover how Flinders’ Indigenous Entry Stream could be your pathway to a career in Medicine.

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