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Indigenous medical student numbers grow

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people studying medicine has soared to a record high, in a sign of progress in efforts to boost the size of the Indigenous health workforce. Figures released by the Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand show that the proportion of first-year medical students who are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent has swollen from 0.8 per cent in 2004 to 2.5 per cent this year – a level that matches their overall representation in the nation’s population.

16 Sep 2012

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people studying medicine has soared to a record high, in a sign of progress in efforts to boost the size of the Indigenous health workforce.

Figures released by the Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand show that the proportion of first-year medical students who are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent has swollen from 0.8 per cent in 2004 to 2.5 per cent this year – a level that matches their overall representation in the nation’s population.

The AMA has long campaigned for a lift in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders studying and practicing medicine as an important part of measures to increase health services for Indigenous communities.

Almost a decade ago the Association began pushing for additional training places for Indigenous doctors, nurses and health workers, and in 2007 it called on governments to ensure that, by 2012, 2.4 per cent of all health professionals would be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.

Reaching this goal seems a way off yet, despite the recent increase in the number of Indigenous students medicine.

Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association Chief Executive Officer Romlie Mokak said that, as at 2009, just 0.2 per cent of all medical practitioners were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

Mr Mokak said that, in order to come close to population parity, there would need to be an immediate injection of 1200 Indigenous doctors into the health system.

While the increase in the number of Indigenous medical students is promising, educators warned that much work was needed to ensure as many as possible complete their studies and qualify as doctors.

To improve retention, the Indigenous Doctors’ Association and the Medical Deans have entered into an agreement to ensure medical schools provide support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

“The rise in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students is a great way we can build the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors,” Indigenous Doctors’ Association Student Director Dana Slape said. “It’s important to ensure that these students can access appropriate cultural and academic support to graduate.”

In a joint statement, the Association and Medical Deans said there needs to be “sustained and accelerated support from governments, education and health sectors to increase the recruitment, retention and completion rates of students, as well as work environments that encourage medical graduates to practice and specialise in their chosen field”.

AR


Published: 16 Sep 2012