School of Public Health and Community Medicine

National leadership in training Indigenous doctors

Mark Harris, Aunty Ali Golding, Lisa Jackson Pulver

As the first Australian university to exceed parity in its enrolments of Aboriginal medical students, UNSW Medicine has taken a critical step towards closing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

This means the number of Indigenous students enrolled in Medicine at UNSW represents a higher percentage of total enrolments than the comparable percentage of Indigenous Australian in the general population. UNSW Medicine also has significant Indigenous enrolments in important related programs, especially public health and is aiming to achieve parity in the make up of its staff by 2020.

The training of Indigenous doctors and healthcare professionals is widely recognised as key to improving health services for Aboriginal communities and, consequently, in helping close the significant wellbeing and life expectancy gap. Indigenous Australians can currently expect to live an average of 10.6 years less than non-Indigenous Australians.

There are now 49 Indigenous medical students enrolled at UNSW, 3.9 per cent of domestic enrolments, compared to the 2.5 per cent of the Australian population that identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Straits Islander.

“We are very proud of our national leadership in training Indigenous doctors – but I would like to challenge other universities to surpass us,” said UNSW Medicine Dean, Professor Peter Smith in launching the Faculty’s Indigenous Statement today (Tuesday, July 8)

“We would happily relinquish first place if it meant an even bigger number of Aboriginal health professionals were being trained.”

When Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon, Associate Professor Kelvin Kong, graduated from Medicine in 1999 he was one of only 20 Indigenous medical graduates Australia-wide. Today there are more than 150 Indigenous doctors practicing across Australia and Kelvin is an Associate Professor at UNSW’s Rural Medical School where he was instrumental in establishing the Indigenous medical entry program.

UNSW Medicine’s Chair of Indigenous Health, Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver, has also pioneered a ground breaking new research approach. Rather than merely continuing to document disadvantage, Professor Jackson and her team are focusing on public health and youth programs that are working well. By identifying and investigating the factors that ensure success, positive outcomes can be emulated elsewhere.

Professor Smith’s said the Faculty’s Indigenous Statement was an important way to define UNSW Medicine’s approach. It commits the Faculty to actively promoting knowledge of, and respect for, Australia’s many Aboriginal cultures, and practical measure to support Indigenous students, such as a wide range of scholarship and mentoring programs that help make university accessible to students from isolated regional and rural areas.


Image: Professor Mark Harris, Executive Director, Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, Aunty Ali Golding, Inaugural Elder in Residence and Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver AM, Chair of Indigenous Health