Luke Walker – when one doctor degree isn’t enough

27 Apr 2017
Member Story

AIDA spoke with Luke Walker, one of our Indigenous medical student members who is now in his final year of studying medicine.

Luke is a Wiradjuri man from a small town called Narromine located about 30 minutes west of Dubbo, in Central West NSW.

In Year 12 he was awarded Narromine’s Young Citizen of the Year. We asked Luke what he did to earn this title.

“I believe I was awarded Narromine’s Young Citizen of the Year for my work as School Captain where I organised charity events such as ‘Pink Day’ (which is now run annually) that supports the McGrath Foundation, and speaking roles at various events such as NAIDOC Week and Remembrance Day. Furthermore, I think I had just found out I got into medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and this played a part as I was the first Narromine High School student to do so.”

Luke has been a medical student at the UNSW in Sydney since 2012. We asked him how he has found this experience so far.

“I found the prospect of moving to Sydney quite daunting as I have no family there. However, having completed the Nura Gili pre-programs I knew most of the other Indigenous people entering medicine. I found myself travelling home often in the beginning as I was homesick, but after getting used to the pace of Sydney and finding a network of peers and friends for support, this eased.

“Studying medicine has been very rewarding and I have enjoyed most aspects of it. It is demanding but worth it. I am coming to the end of my degree now, which is both exciting and frightening (mostly exciting).”

Luke is one of approximately 25 Indigenous students who have been awarded a Shalom Gamarada Residential Scholarship. The Scholarship covers full board and tutoring support at the College. We asked Luke if this is something that has made a big difference to him during his studies.

“The Scholarship has definitely made a huge difference to my ability to complete my studies. It not only allows me to focus on my studies without having to worry about working around my timetable, but also provides a community of support. Having a large number of Indigenous students at the College who can understand what you’re going through and where you came from is a huge advantage.”

We asked Luke where he got the inspiration to study medicine.

“My father died of kidney cancer when I was in Year 5. Because of this, my family had a lot of communication with our GP and various specialists. It was our family’s GP who was able to break through the medical jargon to tell us what was happening with dad. I have always appreciated that fact. When someone has a disease that can’t be controlled and understood, it is easy to become despondent and disempowered. Our GP was able to communicate with us in a way that allowed us to have hope and feel in control. This is what I want to do for other people and why I decided to study medicine.”

During the summer holidays, Luke completed an internship with the National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) in Canberra. He was working on a project that looked at the collaboration network of Indigenous medical researchers, and he hopes this information will be used in the future to identify potential role models for early-career Indigenous researchers to foster career progression and longevity.

“We currently have a shortage of younger Indigenous medical researchers, so hopefully this will help the NHMRC to support more Indigenous researchers in the future. This was an amazing opportunity and everyone I worked with was extremely welcoming. I would highly recommend any Indigenous medical student, even slightly interested in research, to take up this opportunity.”

We have heard that Luke is striving for two doctor titles – one as a medical doctor and one as a PhD doctor, so we asked him if this is true.

“Yes. I am very interested in research and would like to complete a PhD after my medical degree. My interest in research began with my compulsory research year at UNSW where I looked at attitudes and knowledge of medical students towards the influenza vaccine. Having published this research last year and completing my internship with the NHMRC, I am now even more interested in further qualifying with a PhD.”

Luke believes that mentoring is extremely important for Indigenous medical students.

“Most of our cohort have moved from their families and country to come and study medicine. It can be quite daunting to begin a new chapter of your life away from the things you know. Having mentors within medicine that you can go to for advice, whether that be about career progression, difficult medical concepts or general life, helps facilitate peer support networks.”

We asked Luke if he has felt culturally safe during his studies as an Indigenous medical student.

“No, I haven’t always felt culturally safe during my studies. There is still much ignorance about Indigenous peoples and history. However, being surrounding by strong Indigenous men and women, who you can go to for support has helped me become more confident with my own identity.”

We asked Luke if there are any organisations that particularly inspire him within Indigenous medicine.

“I recently did a four-week placement with Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation in Alice Springs. This is an Aboriginal run organisation that supports Aboriginal people who suffer from chronic kidney disease to return to country and family by providing dialysis services in remote communities. Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku means ‘making all our families well’, which encapsulates the holistic approach they take to caring for their patients (or more appropriately, their family). They not only provide dialysis support but also community and social support.”

Finally, we asked Luke what his dream job would be.

“Ultimately, I would like to work as a paediatrician or child and adolescent psychiatrist and part-time academic. I would also like to locum in remote communities.”

We wish Luke all the best in his final year of study and on his journey to become a doctor or two.

27 Apr 2017