1) Where you are from?
Gunnedah – New South Wales, Kamilaroi Nation, and currently I live in Bundaberg.
2) Where on the medical continuum are you?
I am a former Royal Australian Navy medic and intensive care paramedic in several ambulance services and for RFDS. I am a graduate of James Cook University and I have a Fellowship of the RACGP, a Fellowship in Advanced Rural General Practice and I am a Rural Generalist. I am currently in my own private general practice – focussing on Indigenous and veteran health but caring for the entire community. I am an Associate Professor at Bond University and have other teaching appointments at various universities. I founded the RACGP National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, now known as RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.
3) Current workplace or place of study?
I’m currently running my own practice which I established in 2012 in Bundaberg which focuses on Indigenous and veterans health care and I currently work with Dr Jeanette Wimbus who is an Indigenous doctor also. We have a third doctor starting in January allowing for steady growth and the ability to continue providing focus care for our Indigenous patients. We ensure access to a variety of resources many mainstream practices are not often aware of, this allows us to optimise outcomes for our Indigenous patients.
I was a mature student entering medicine at the age of 35. I have had the opportunity of working in many interesting places. I have worked for the RFDS as a paramedic and medical student over the years at the Yulara Medical Centre at Ayers Rock Resort allowing me to work with the Mutitjulu community which is something I built upon further through the Jimmy Little foundation, which I was fortunate enough to help establish. I have worked in many remote aboriginal communities with the Jimmy Little foundation and doing clinics either on placement or the work I had the fortune to do with Dr Bill Glasson doing remote ophthalmology clinics.
4) What does a typical day of your life entail and how do you unwind after a day of work/study? (Do you have any additional talents?)
I work long hours usually starting around 6 am and working through till around 8 pm allowing me to both perform clinical general practice for my Indigenous, veteran and mainstream patients. I also attend to matters in relation to running the practice as well as the variety of other administrative needs associated with the variety of positions I hold, particularly around the chair of the local regional Clinical Council and also my ongoing responsibilities with the RACGP National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.
My extracurricular activities include working with the “Fred Brophy’s Famous Boxing Troupe”, looking after their medical support and promoting a variety of primary health initiatives amongst the boxers travelling around rural and regional Queensland. This gives me a chance to take some photos in some very interesting places and Santa Claus has been very kind this year to bring a drone. I might take the opportunity of utilising this in some of the most amazing places Australia has to offer.
5) Who or what was your biggest inspiration in becoming a doctor?
My Grandmother and Mother.
Origin of my aboriginality, community service and nursing.
I am a great advocate for mentors and mentoring systems and although I have not been involved in a formal mentoring program myself, my mentors have been the greatest inspiration and support throughout my life generally, and particularly in my medical career. I’ve had the great honour of having some very influential mentors along the way who have shared some amazing experiences with me and opened doors allowing me to do things like establish the RACGP National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. AIDA has provided many mentors also, and some great opportunities to work in aboriginal health and policy at development level. Interestingly many of these opportunities have coalesced in such a way that opportunities have come from many sectors but have often overlapped and am very honoured to have had the opportunity of being actively involved in these opportunities right from the start of entering medical school in 2000. Opportunities that presented because I was an aboriginal medical student led to the chance to develop enhanced skills that ultimately have given me the opportunity to take mainstream leadership roles such as the chair of the National Rural Health Network (now the National Rural Health Student Network) which was coordinating over 5000 medical and allied health students through the rural health clubs across Australia in 2005. The skills that these opportunities afforded me also led to realising an opportunity to start the RACGP National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in 2010. Apart from my Grandmother who truly shared with me a great passion for community service, I think the most influential mentor and inspiration for me was uncle Jimmy Little. He taught me gentleness and kindness can often open more doors and get better responses than being more vocal. This is sometimes challenging when we are so passionate about making changes, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
6) Has AIDA supported you through your studies? If so, how?
I was very lucky to be involved in AIDA from the early days in my medical degree and to attend the launch at the Governor General’s residence in Sydney. I had the opportunity of being actively involved in the first PRIDoC held in Hawaii in 2002 which will always remain in my memory as being the most amazing conference I could ever hope to attend. AIDA supported their work at James Cook Uni in the establishment of the Townsville Indigenous Medical Student Association (TIMSA) and I have been very honoured to spend three years on the national board from 2005. AIDA has always been very supportive of all the work that I’ve been involved in, particularly the RACGP National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health holding a position on the board. AIDA has been a very important part of my mentoring and support and I was very honoured in 2016 to receive the Indigenous Doctor of the Year Award from AIDA . The relationships with our brothers and sisters within AIDA is very important to me, and has provided great strength and support over the years.
7) Have you encountered any cultural safety issues during your studies?
All the time.
Challenging being paler skin can get into conversations with people who are not aware of cultural heritage. One of the most memorable events was attending a Parliamentary function in Canberra. I had a very senior politician making mention to me of the pale aboriginal doctors that were coming through the system not realising that I was one of them.
There is a great ignorance amongst many good people in Australia around the issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. As an Aboriginal doctor who advertises this proudly in our practice it is great to take the opportunity at times to share some of these challenges with people who are actually genuinely keen to learn and it is great to see, at times, a change in their attitudes.
8) What inspires you within the medical profession?
I’m very privileged to have access to information and resources that can influence positive outcomes in people’s lives if they wish to engage in the opportunity. General practice is a great medium to communicate and connect with patients and in particular my Indigenous patients in a way that can inspire them to engage in a health system that may not always have supported them or given them a great experience. Because I run my own practice I have the opportunity of some control over how we do business and therefore I can spend time with patients who need more time through complex situations, and it is great to see positive outcomes stem from this investment. This is not always the case sadly, but it is very rewarding when the patient has a positive outcome which may change the way they engage in their health care for the rest of their life.
9) Have you been a mentee or mentor? What has your experience been?
My mentors have formed a major part in my life and medical career experience. I believe mentoring is a great opportunity and given the opportunity to be involved in a program I would recommend grabbing on with both hands.
10) What field of medicine is your passion?
I was very keen to do ophthalmology until I realised, through mentoring with a great friend Dr Bill Glasson, that it was not ophthalmology that inspired me so much as the art of medicine that he practised. I’m very lucky to have realised this and to utilise the skills I have learnt directed through my passion for general practice. I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity of participating in this on a daily basis, clinically at the coalface, and also through a variety of opportunities in a leadership role.
11) Have you won any awards/prizes/scholarships or other notable achievements?
I have been fortunate over the years to receive a number of awards, in recognition essentially, of community service. I acknowledge all those who helped along the way as much of the journey I have been on involves harnessing energies and passion of many people to bring about change. In 2003 I was fortunate to be awarded the AMA best individual contribution to health care in Australia award nationally while I was still a medical student. In 2013 I received a NAIDOC award from my local community which was a great honour, but the pinnacle has been the 2016 Indigenous Doctor of the Year Award from AIDA. Being recognised by my peers has also been such an important part of the journey thus far.
I am also very proud to have been featured in the recent book – “Bush Doctors” the story of 16 Rural Doctors. I am honoured to be in a book also telling the story of our sister, Dr Nellie Trees and two of my mentors, Dr Bill Glasson and Dr Chester Wilson.
12) What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I hope to continue my involvement with AIDA and potentially be involved in the Board again at some stage. It would be a great honour if I had the opportunity to do the Presidency of the RACGP at some stage, but for this I need to have my own general practice well supported and resourced with great doctors, and if anyone is interested you are very welcome to give me a call! I look forward to the opportunity of mentoring others and repaying the favour that’s been afforded me over the years. Amongst my dreams, sharing adventures with my family features strongly. These are the things that we advocate for, for our patients but often deny for ourselves. It’s important that we find balance and this is something that I have not been particularly good at the past, but hope that the future will see me doing this better.
13) Are you looking forward to the AIDA Conference 2018 in Perth? If so, why?
Always inspirational to spend time with my brothers and sisters at AIDA.