A voice for Indigenous health education and student leadership

07 Feb 2017
Member Story

Miss Kelly Langford has been an Indigenous Medical Student Member with AIDA since her first year of enrolment in the Doctor of Medicine at The University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2015. She is a proud Darraba woman from the Badjala Nation on Fraser Island.

We asked what inspired Kelly to study medicine.

“When I was growing up, I knew of many Aboriginal people suffering from diabetes. It was heartbreaking to see the burden of diabetes on them, their family and our community. I knew that by studying medicine I could prevent the suffering and improve the health and wellbeing of my community. I therefore diligently studied during high school to attain an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score to be accepted into a Bachelor of Science and later a Doctor of Medicine.

“In combination with my self-drive and determination, my motivation to achieve my goals has not been without my family’s support – especially my nana who has constantly encouraged, inspired and supported me throughout my studies.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I remember my nana, who is a drug and alcohol counsellor, having such enthusiasm and passion when it came to helping Indigenous people. I strived to find something that I would be as passionate about as Nana was about being a counsellor. I am now in my third year of medicine, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful to be studying a degree that will give me the knowledge and skills to improve the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people.”

In 2016 Kelly was the AIDA Student Representative Committee (SRC) member for UWA, and the Indigenous Community Activity Coordinator at her Rural Health Club ‘Students and Practitioners Interested in Rural Practice, Health, Education Xetcetera’ (SPINRPHEX). Kelly is also a tutor with the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme.

“In my role on the AIDA Student Representative Committee last year, I was able to represent the voice of Indigenous medical students at my university, I was able to participate in developing the “Debunking the Myths” video that unpacks questions faced by Indigenous medical students, and I was able to network with many inspiring Indigenous medical students across Australia.”

Kelly is highly active in key leadership roles, displaying passion for ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students are represented at the local medical school level and nationally at the AIDA and National Rural Health Student Network (NHRSN) level. She was recently appointment as Indigenous Health Officer for the NRHSN, a role that ensures the representation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical student voice in the executive committee.

We asked Kelly what her plans are as the new Indigenous Health Officer for the National Rural Health Student Network this year.

“This year, I will advocate for more Indigenous health teaching. It is necessary that all health professionals have an understanding of Indigenous culture and are able to communicate with Indigenous patients appropriately. This enforces a trust-based relationship between the patient and health care worker, and this is necessary for good quality and safe treatment of the patient. For example, when an Indigenous patient feels as though they are respected, listened to and spoken to in a way that is culturally appropriate, it may be more likely that they will disclose information, understand what is being said to them and maintain a relationship with the health care professional.

“We are often told that we will learn more from seeing patients than we will from reading a textbook. The same applies when learning how to provide culturally appropriate health care to Indigenous patients. Indigenous people have a diverse range of cultures, beliefs, histories and upbringing, which can prove difficult to teach. Therefore, it is necessary that all students get practical exposure to experience first-hand the diversity of Indigenous patients and to practice providing culturally appropriate health care. At my university, many students don’t get this exposure unless they choose to apply for programs such as the ACRRM John Flynn Placement Program or apply to the Rural Clinical School, however, both of these programs are high competitive. This year as the Indigenous health officer of the NRHSN, I will be advocating for more student rural placements.”

Besides her formal roles, Kelly successfully organised and facilitated an event where Indigenous health professionals ran workshops for students centred around topics including culturally appropriate bedside manners, working in Indigenous rural communities, and Indigenous culture and identity. The event was a success and many students said that the knowledge they had gained would improve their approach to and communication with Indigenous patients.

“I believe that events like this are important to encourage and inspire young Indigenous people to finish secondary school and pursue tertiary education. I think that it is important that Indigenous people have people who they can look up to and be inspired from.”

In her role with SPINRPHEX, Kelly organised a stall at the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) to encourage and inspire Indigenous students to study medicine. She shared with students her personal experience with studying medicine and information about entry pathways. This is important work contributes to help close the gap between the number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous medical practitioners.

Kelly was one of the Indigenous medical students who attended AIDA 2016 in Cairns. We asked her if she enjoyed the conference and what her highlights were.

“One of the most rewarding parts of AIDA 2016 was the chance to re-connect with Indigenous medical students from across Australia, and exchange stories and share experiences about what it has been like to study medicine. Many of the Indigenous students I had met from the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIMENetwork were further into their degree than I was. These students motivated me to study hard throughout the year. It was lovely to see these Indigenous students again and hear of their achievements. Many of them were about to sit their final exams and graduate and it was really nice to be able to congratulate them in person. I also met a lot of Indigenous students who had just begun their first year of medicine. It was nice to be able to answer their questions and motivate them to keep studying hard.

“One recent Indigenous medical graduate who has inspired me is Danielle Dries. I attended her presentation on her work with the NRHSN. Danielle discussed the opportunities she has had and the changes that she has been able to make as the Indigenous Health Officer. After speaking with Danielle she encouraged me to apply for her role with the NRHSN in 2017. Without attending AIDA 2016 in Cairns, I would not have had the opportunity to meet Danielle and apply for this position.

“On the registration day, we were welcomed by the Ngangkari people. One of the highlights of the conference was being taught traditional dances and performing them with the other Indigenous students. The room was filled with laughter as we all attempted to dance creating a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere. This was a great way to begin the conference.

“After attending the dancing workshop, I went to a discussion on racism and resilience. This was a very informative discussion from which I gained a lot. Dr Louis Peachey spoke about the importance of choosing your battles. He said that when approaching a person about something they have said that may have been culturally inappropriate it is important to assess the situation and determine whether or not it is appropriate at that point in time to confront them about the issue. This information was very relevant to me and my experiences, having recently started the clinical part of my degree.

“I attended the workshop ‘What does quality general practice look like?” I was really looking forward to attending this workshop as I am very interested in General Practice training. This was very informative and gave me a good understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a GP. I was also able to connect with Indigenous GPs and learn a bit about the services available in their communities. I also attended a workshop on reflective writing and found this to be very valuable. In this workshop, we engaged in discussion around our individual experiences with reflective writing and the impact this has had on us.”

We are excited to hear that Kelly plans to attend the AIDA Conference in the Hunter Valley later this year.

She also attend our first Member Networking event of the year in Perth recently, where we launched our new mentoring program. We asked her what she thought of the new approach and if mentoring is important to her.

“When I was in high school I was part of a program called ‘Follow the Dream’. The constant mentoring and support that I received helped me achieve the results that enabled me to be accepted into university. I therefore know first-hand the benefits that mentoring can have. I am so grateful to have been part of the Member Networking event that was held in Perth earlier this year. This event gave me the opportunity to connect with many Indigenous medical students, our new Interns and many inspiring Indigenous doctors. I was finally able to meet Dr Helen Milroy and we discussed in our group important topics including work-life balance and what mentoring means to students. I was matched with Dr Sarah McEwan because of my interest in rural health and general practice. It was lovely to meet her and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch and establishing a successful mentor/mentee relationship. I also had the pleasure of re-connecting with Dr Nathan Luies who gave me some advice for my rural placement in Broome this year.”

Kelly contributes to an understanding of Indigenous health education for her peers, promotes rural and remote health careers and advocates for improvements to the health of Indigenous people in rural and remote communities. She provides support for her peers to have a voice in key organisations such as AIDA and NRHSN.

Kelly has been nominated for the 2017 LIMElight Awards in the category of Excellence in Indigenous Health Education Student Leadership. We wish her the best of luck. The Award recipients will be announced at the LIMECONNECTIONVII Dinner on 6 April 2017 in Melbourne.

07 Feb 2017