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28 Oct 2014

The number of registered Indigenous doctors has doubled in the past decade, boosting efforts to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association has reported that 204 Indigenous medical doctors are now registered to practise – up from 90 in 2004 - and there are currently 310 Indigenous students studying medicine.

Training more Indigenous doctors is seen as crucial to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health both because they are considered more likely to practise in Indigenous communities, and are better able to provide culturally-appropriate care.

But although the Indigenous medical workforce is expanding, AIDA President and GP Dr Tammy Klimpton said it needed to become much bigger.

Dr Klimpton said that to reach population parity of around three Indigenous doctors for every 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Indigenous medical workforce would have to reach 2895.

“It’s great to see our numbers grow, but we need more than 10 times this amount,” she said. “An increase in Indigenous doctors, along with a focus on Australia’s Indigenous health workforce, will help address the ill health and burden of disease in our communities, and respond appropriately to the continuing crisis in Indigenous health.”

Following a visit to several Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Northern Territory in August, AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said there were encouraging signs of progress in improving Indigenous health, but warned much more needed to be done.

While some communities were achieving success in tackling domestic violence and other problems linked to alcohol abuse, malnutrition – particularly among the very young – remains disturbingly common, which many children suffering anaemia, scabies and other conditions usually associated with poverty.

AIDA Chief Executive Officer Kate Thomann said training more Indigenous doctors was essential to achieving improvement.

“There is a vital need for the Australian health system to be culturally safe, high quality, reflective of need, and one which respects and integrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural values,” Ms Thomann said. “This can only be increased by the employment of more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals, including Indigenous doctors, throughout the health care system.”

One small hurdle has been removed after the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia announced that Indigenous practitioners are now able to renew their registration online.

The Board said the registration fee had been frozen at $100 for the coming year, and urged all practitioners to renew their registration by the 30 November deadline.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 28 Oct 2014