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01 Jun 2018

A medical student who makes patient education films in Pitjantjara language, and who plans to provide health care to the people of Central Australia, is the recipient of the 2018 AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship.

Pirpantji Rive-Nelson, from Alice Springs, is a final-year medical student at the University of Queensland. He is attending the Rural Medical School in Toowoomba and he plans to return to Central Australia to work as a clinician.

Outgoing AMA President Dr Michael Gannon presented Mr Rive-Nelson with the scholarship at the AMA National Conference in Canberra in May.

The AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship was established in 1994 with a contribution from the Commonwealth Government. The AMA is seeking further donations and sponsorships from individuals and corporations to continue this important contribution to Indigenous health.

Mr Rive-Nelson told Australian Medicine he felt honoured to receive the scholarship.

“It’s great. It serves two purposes for me,” he said.

“It is a bit of a pat on the back for my efforts, in terms of medicine being quite a gruelling degree and you’re getting constant feedback and always told to improve in many areas.

“So it’s kind of nice to get a pat on the back and know that I’m on the right track. So that’s been great.

“And also to be given the opportunity to come down here to meet some of the bigger players in the medical community. That’s a bit of a treat.

“I think people where I am from will definitely notice it, but I don’t think people will understand the gravity of it and the fact that the AMA is the peak governing body for medicine in Australia. But people will recognise it as an achievement and will be very pleased to see it.

“At the end of the day it definitely bolsters my confidence in medicine in terms of keeping me on track.”

Upon receiving the award, Mr Rive-Nelson said his aspirations included a fulfilling and challenging career practising medicine in Alice Springs Hospital, inspiring youth of Central Australia to pursue health careers, and to take on leadership and advocacy roles within Central Australia and national healthcare organisations.

“Many Indigenous Australians of Central Australia do not speak English as a primary language, and seeking health care from the Alice Springs Hospital is a daunting experience,” Mr Rive-Nelson said.

“Therefore, I hope to actively assist Pitjantjatjara-speaking patients, and my colleagues, by being a clinician who is able to navigate both languages and cultures competently.”

Mr Rive-Nelson is also making short patient health education material in Pitjantjara language, including a YouTube video on kidney disease, which won an award from the University of Queensland.

Fewer than 300 doctors working in Australia identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander – representing 0.3 per cent of the workforce – and only 286 Indigenous medical students were enrolled across the nation in 2017.

Dr Gannon said Mr Rive-Nelson was a deserving recipient of the $10,000 a year Scholarship.

“Pirpantji Rive-Nelson is a respected member of the University of Queensland medical school, and of the tri-State region comprising the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, and the Central Lands Council lands,” Dr Gannon said.

“He grew up in communities including Irrunytju, Pipalyatjara, and Kalka, and has been exposed to a traditional life that most young Indigenous people can only dream of.

“He is a Wati – a fully-initiated man – and many of his family are Ngangkari – traditional bush doctors. Pirpantji will be the first initiated Pitjantjatjara Wati to become a doctor in the Western medical model, and he will be able to collaborate with Ngangkari to share knowledge and better outcomes for the health of the Central Australian community.

“The significant gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a national disgrace that must be tackled by all levels of Government, the private and corporate sectors, and all segments of our community.

“Indigenous people are more likely to make and keep medical appointments when they are confident that they will be treated by someone who understands their culture, their language, and their unique circumstances. Mr Rive-Nelson is that person.”


More information is available at

Mr Rive-Nelson’s kidney health video can be viewed at



Published: 01 Jun 2018