BRIDGING THE GAP
The racism in medicine –
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