The racism in medicine –

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MORE in­dige­nous health pro­fes­sion­als are needed to im­prove the health of Abo­rig­i­nals in South Aus­tralia, in­dige­nous health work­ers say.

There are 302 in­dige­nous health work­ers in SA, rep­re­sent­ing 0.7 per cent of the state’s health pro­fes­sion­als.

Racism is one of the rea­sons iden­ti­fied as de­ter­ring in­dige­nous peo­ple from work­ing in the health and med­i­cal pro­fes­sions.

Koori psy­chol­o­gist and Flin­ders Uni­ver­sity in­dige­nous health pro­fes­sor Den­nis McDer­mott says old stereo­types also are pre­vent­ing more in­dige­nous peo­ple from en­ter­ing the health in­dus­try.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, there’s still a lot of racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion that goes on,’’ he says.

‘‘(In­dige­nous peo­ple are) ac- tively dis­cour­aged by many ca­reer ad­vis­ers. (They are told) ‘why would you want to study medicine? You will never get into that’. The short­ages are across the board. We have some­thing like 120 Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der doc­tors in Aus­tralia. Per head of pop­u­la­tion, it should be up around the 1000 mark.’’

Flin­ders Uni­ver­sity has re­ceived a $10 mil­lion en­dow­ment from trans­port mag­nate Greg Poche to es­tab­lish Poche Cen­tres for In­dige­nous Health in Ade­laide and Alice Springs, and pro­vide schol­ar­ships for in­dige­nous health stu­dents.

The uni­ver­sity now has about 40 in­dige­nous health and med­i­cal stu­dents, but Prof McDer­mott hopes that will in­crease to 50 next year and 75 by 2012.

Abo­rig­i­nal Health Coun­cil of SA pub­lic of­fi­cer Mary Buck­skin says the Fed­eral Govern­ment is en­cour­ag­ing more in­dige­nous Aus­tralians to en­ter the health pro­fes­sion but ed­u­ca­tional dis­ad­van­tage is a key de­ter­rent.

‘‘ Once qual­i­fied, pay and recog­ni­tion among in­dige­nous health work­ers of­ten is low and there is a high at­tri­tion rate, es­pe­cially among male work­ers,’’ she says.

‘‘The work is so de­mand­ing, par­tic­u­larly if they’re work­ing in their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, where they have got the added de­mands (of be­ing re­lated to the pa­tients).

‘‘And get­ting peo­ple to work in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor is­sue.’’

Muna Paiendi Com­mu­nity Health Ser­vice Abo­rig­i­nal clin­i­cal health worker Damian Rigney says in­dige­nous health work­ers are crit­i­cal to im­prov­ing Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der health.

‘‘I think ev­ery (health) ser­vice should have a com­mit­ment to pro­vide ser­vices to the in­dige­nous com­mu­nity and one of the best ways of do­ing that is to em­ploy Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple to co­or­di­nate health pro­grams, not just to carry them out,’’ he says.

Com­mu­nity health worker Damian Rigney at the Muna Paiendi Com­mu­nity Health Ser­vice. Pic­ture: Tom Lee

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