Member story on Mrs Kathryn Dalmer

06 Mar 2018
Member Story

AIDA Student Representative Committee (SRC) member, Kathryn Dalmer is an Australian Indigenous Woman of the Wirradjuri Nation, Three Rivers Tribes. She was raised in Sydney and on the South Coast of NSW. She currently lives in Wollongong and represents the University of Wollongong (UOW) on the SRC.

Survey on the experiences of GPs with Indigenous cultural training

Kathryn is currently conducting the first Australian national study looking at the experiences of general practitioners (GPs) with Indigenous cultural training. It aims to identify GPs’ views on the adequacy of current levels of knowledge regarding Indigenous socio cultural and economic issues for the management of Indigenous patients. The results will show whether current models of training are meeting GPs’ needs, which resources are being used to overcome knowledge gaps, and barriers to accessing these.

GPs are the most likely specialists to encounter Indigenous people at non-critical stages of healthcare. As such, GPs are in a position to exert the biggest changes to individual long-term health outcomes and Indigenous population health.

The survey is an anonymous three minute online survey. If you are a GP, please take this short survey to help Kathryn with her important medical research. Feel free to share with other GPs and other relevant organisations as well.

Please take the survey here:

Kathryn’s journey

Kathryn is only 90 days away from her final medical school exams and says life is currently all about placement, study, and finding time to spend with her three gorgeous daughters and husband. Most recently this has involved supporting her daughters’ transition to big school, teaching bike riding and being there for important days like school swimming carnivals. “When I get any time outside of this I also love to paint traditional and contemporary Indigenous art,” says Kathryn.

Her entry into medicine has been a result of a gradual journey towards addressing issues faced by Indigenous Australians.

She started her professional career as a counsellor in children’s jails where she discovered very quickly that the disproportionate number of Indigenous youth in lock up was reflective of their prior adverse life experience. This prompted a switch to working in child protection, foster care, and psychosocial early intervention services before she decided to study medicine.

This decision was based on Kathryn’s passion for engaging Indigenous people in healthy life practices and choices to prevent progression to the issues that she has seen through her career. Engagement in mainstream services to empower people to improved holistic health and life outcomes is therefore a major passion and driving force for Kathryn.

“My current research project is following this same passion of maximising engagement with Indigenous people to create better individual and population wide outcomes.”

AIDA’s support through her medical career

“AIDA has been an enormous support to me in my medical career. I doubt that I would be on the precipice of graduating medical school if not for the support provided by my team of AIDA mentors and the amazing AIDA secretariat and executives, including opportunities for both professional and personal development that I would never have otherwise dreamed of,” says Kathryn.

These opportunities include speaking at the Medical Deans conference, being taken under the wing of Dr Marilyn Clarke in her first year while on placement in Grafton and now by Dr Kristy Bell, an AIDA GP registrar in her current longitudinal placement. She also mentions the ongoing guidance and support provided by the AIDA research team for her current project, and the connections she made at the AIDA conference.

“In short, it is a real comfort and a privilege to know that no matter what challenges I am facing I can always pick up the phone and call the AIDA office or another member knowing that no matter who it is on the other end of the line will do whatever they can to assist!”

The importance of mentoring
Through AIDA Kathryn has been mentored by Dr Annalyse Crane, Dr Benjamin Armstrong and Professor Annemarie Hennessey – all of whom have been absolutely amazing in their support and guidance on a multitude of issues that have arisen in her infantile medical journey.

“I have a nasty habit of jumping into the deep end of things and when I come out unscathed and exhilarated from the experience these are the people I can call who understand what that experience really means. And when I fall into a hole, anxious and fearful about what’s coming next or which direction to take, these are the people who are always there to help keep perspective on the bigger picture, teach me the core things needed and help me pull through. This has not only been the medical education aspect but also guidance on how to juggle the demands of a medical career and family life which I believe would be difficult to replicate in most avenues of medicine,” says Kathryn.

Kathryn is also a mentor of two Indigenous students at UOW. She says that connecting with, encouraging and supporting them is an amazing experience. “Being that person that people can open up to when they know that they are not going to be judged is a real privilege and I learn so much from my mentees on an ongoing basis. There is something special about creating strategies in this setting and working together for longer term goals,” she says.

Kathryn’s vision as a doctor

Kathryn is inspired by the ability to make a real difference to patients and their families through the provision of positive health experiences. She finds it rewarding when her work will influence the family and friends of a patient to engage with our health system earlier to decrease morbidity and mortality.

“All the little things that contribute to this are the things that count. Like educating an anaesthetic registrar that they might get more accurate answers from an Elder if they didn’t stand over them but were more on the same level. And being stopped in the hospital corridor by an Indigenous mum and her teenage girl on their way to the fracture clinic, to be thanked for the time spent with them so that they could understand what osteomyelitis meant and why it was important to follow the medical management plan.” Kathryn says she has a number of visions and that the core to them all is to be the best doctor she can be. Not only to provide better health care to her patients and those they influence but also to inspire and support others who don’t come from privilege backgrounds to reach their full potential.

Being an SRC member

We asked Kathryn how she finds the experience of being a member of the AIDA SRC. Her answer: “Amazing. Invigorating. Inspiring. Soul replenishing.”

Kathryn believes it is a unique privilege to be able to meet and develop relationships with other students from all over the country who are all so accomplished in such a wide variety of spheres. “To create friendships with individuals of this calibre, across different year levels, is an amazing networking opportunity that I know we will carry to being Fellows together,” she says.

Meeting with the SRC allows a great overview of the experiences and different challenges of the various medical schools that she can take back to UOW and utilise towards recognition of what they do well and ideas of how to do other things better.

“It is also another avenue in which AIDA provides me support across different domains of my life. For example, one of the outcomes of our last meeting was that another SRC member has put forward one of my artworks, which will now be used for promotion at the Melbourne University Medical Conference,” says Kathryn.

Cultural safety issues during medical school

Kathryn says she has most definitely encountered cultural safety issues during her studies. The list is long and encompasses both covert and overt incidences directed both towards herself and others. “Being allocated a 12 month GP placement under a supervisor whose Indigenous patients were referred only to as ‘CTG’, their billing code, and supporting a fellow student through a placement where her registrar considered her ‘ok’ because she was a ‘halfy’ would not even scrape the surface,” says Kathryn.

Scholarships, awards and other achievements

“I commenced my medical studies with a five month old baby, a two year and four year old and have somehow managed to have maintained my marriage, raised three beautiful girls and am on the verge of completing medical school. It’s very basic I know, but it feels like a big achievement to us as a family unit. We celebrate every step along that path and don’t need the accolades of others to invoke additional meaning of these wins. I think this is my most notable achievement,” says Kathryn.

Outside of this Kathryn has been awarded the Puggy Hunter scholarship that has allowed her to embark on the path of medicine. She has also been awarded various sporting achievements such as representing her state and playing national level water polo and soccer in Australia, and European handball in Malaysia, winning the Dutch female long board surfing championship, and various small scholarships which have allowed her to study and travel with her sports overseas.

The AIDA Conference 2018

We are very pleased to hear that Kathryn is planning on attending the AIDA conference in Perth in September.

“The workshops and the presentations provide invaluable learning that I would otherwise be unable to access, and the networking and career development opportunities are unique. For example, I am hoping to present the results of my research project for peer review at this year’s conference. Having never undertaken research in the past, this is another step towards my medical professional identity that AIDA has been an integral part of and last year’s SAMRIH workshop contributed to.”

In addition to this, Kathryn says the conference is one of the few places where she get to be completely herself, recharge her spirit and reconnect with amazing people from around the country.

06 Mar 2018