The experience has helped me to see how we can focus on the strengths of Aboriginal culture in the practical application of health and medicine.
Medical students at The Australian National University (ANU) have the unique opportunity to join an Indigenous Health Stream (IHS) and receive support through the Peter Sharp Scholarship program, thanks to an ACT Health funding package worth $353,000 over four years.
The scholarship program celebrates Canberra GP, Dr Peter Sharp, whose work and dedication made significant contributions towards improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Students enrolled in the IHS are trained to be part of a medical workforce skilled in delivering Indigenous health, and help close the gap between the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Dr Amanda Steele, former IHS student and ANU Medical School graduate, says she appreciated opportunities such as her six-week placement in Yuendumu, a remote town in the Northern Territory.
"The Indigenous Health Stream was a great support for me, because it enabled me to connect with my culture throughout Medical School, which was so good for the mind, body and soul."
Funds from ACT Health provide one scholarship of $18,000 a year, during the four years of the medicine program; assist potential IHS students prepare for the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT); and provide a cultural immersion experience for all IHS students.
The 2018 Peter Sharp Scholarship recipient, Christopher Hagan, says that he is grateful for both the financial security and the opportunities that the scholarship have opened up for him.
"I have opportunities here that a lot of people in my family and my community have never had, and I feel so lucky and so grateful. My dream is to be a rural GP in a country town - hopefully back home."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants also receive financial assistance to help with the often overwhelming process of preparing for the GAMSAT test to get them into the ANU Medical School.
In addition, ACT Health assists IHS students to participate in a two-day cultural immersion program on the south coast of NSW through the Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness program.
Participants value the experience for its positive exposure to Aboriginal culture.
"It was inspirational to hear from people who are looking forward, and focusing on how to improve the lives of Aboriginal people through sharing their culture. The experience has helped me to see how we can focus on the strengths of Aboriginal culture in the practical application of health and medicine," said one participant.
So far, a total of 68 medical students have participated in the IHS, with 41 students currently enrolled in the four-year program.
Seven IHS students have received the Peter Sharp Scholarship to date.