The Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges says Australia is lagging behind in the number of its Indigenous people graduating from medicine.
The committee says, when the first Aboriginal person graduated from medicine 30 years ago, that was a hundred years behind New Zealand and Canada.
A new agreement signed as part of NAIDOC Week aims to close the gap in that area with a commitment to increase and support Indigenous doctors.
Peggy Giakoumelos reports.
Professor Kate Leslie is chairwoman of The Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges, or CPMC, and a senior anaesthetist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
She says the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association and the CPMC will work together to try to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical specialists.
The Collaboration Agreement, signed this week, will contribute to closing the gap by looking at ways to train more Indigenous medical specialists.
The agreement is also a move to improve the ways medical specialists and Indigenous people work together.
Professor Leslie says the deal is an important step forward.
“Well, this is a landmark agreement between the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association and the Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges, which represents the specialist medical colleges of Australia. And our aim is threefold. (First,) to close the current gap in health outcomes and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We also want to increase the understanding of all Australian doctors about cultural issues in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And, thirdly, and probably most importantly, we want to increase the number of Indigenous doctors who do specialist medical education after they finish medical school.”
Professor Leslie says about 175 Indigenous doctors work in Australia, mainly as general practitioners, or GPs.
She says, while there is a great need in all communities for GPs, there is only a small group of Indigenous doctors in other medical specialities.
That includes obstetrics, gynaecology, psychiatry and surgery.
Professor Leslie says there is a need for doctors in all specialties.
“Our position is that an increase in the Indigenous specialist medical workforce is important regardless of the types of specialties or the particular needs of any community. But if we were going to train Indigenous specialists specifically for Indigenous issues, these would include primary care and rural and remote medicine, psychiatry, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology — things that are needed in rural and remote locations where Indigenous people live.”
Dr Tammy Kimpton is president of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association and a GP in New South Wales.
She says, out of around 80,000 doctors practising in Australia, fewer than 200 are Indigenous.
Dr Kimpton says increasing the number of graduates is the first step.
“We represent only a very tiny percentage of the health workforce. There are about 80,000 doctors, and around 175 of those are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, so nowhere near the 2.5 per cent that we make up generally. We would need to be around a thousand doctors to have population parity. But there’s also, then, of those 175 doctors, there are very few who have completed specialist training. And so this collaboration agreement is about working together with the colleges to ensure that there are clearly articulated pathways for our graduates to go into specialist training and then good support for them to ensure that they get their fellowship.”