Growing up in the small town of Mudgee in Central West New South Wales, Madeline Reynolds dreamed of becoming a doctor. But as a young Koori girl that dream felt more like an unobtainable fantasy
It was in early high school that I decided it was medicine that I wanted to get into,” Reynolds says.
“Indigenous doctors key to closing the health gap “from Buzz
“I just knew it was going to be hard work to get enough marks to get [into the course]. And living in Mudgee it was like, ‘how am I going to move to Sydney?’ I knew no one and I couldn’t afford to stay there for six years and do medicine. So from multiple aspects it was not going to be easy, so I wasn’t sure if I would do it at all”.
Reynolds’ determination saw her turn that fantasy into reality when the 24-year-old graduated from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) as a doctor earlier in January.
“It’s not a field that many Aboriginal people go into. As I come from an Indigenous background I am hoping that this occupation will enable me to give back to my community,” she says.
This year there will be over 40 Indigenous students studying medicine at UNSW, an extraordinary achievement considering the overall education outcomes for Indigenous Australians, who are far less likely to complete year 12 or go on to tertiary education.
In 2013, Chris Cunneen, a professor of criminology at UNSW, grimly noted that, “nationally, Aboriginal men are more than twice as likely to be found in prison than in university.”
“We are woefully behind on training Aboriginal doctors to work in Aboriginal communities. The problem is that the Indigenous community is having to live off advice from imported doctors,” Neil Balnaves, from the Balnaves Foundation, which supplies Indigenous medical students with scholarships, tells BuzzFeed News.
“They have no relationship to the land they are on, they have got no understanding of the background of people in the communities. They don’t have the same knowledge as the young Indigenous people who grew up in these communities.”
Balnaves believes that having more Indigenous doctors would go a long way towards closing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and wants to see more investment in the area.
“It’s scary that in a country like ours that if you’re an Indigenous kid and you’re encouraged to go to school and onto tertiary education, despite all the noise the government makes and the promises they give, there is no way that those Aboriginal kids can access the funds to survive,” Balnaves says.
Across Australia, there are curently 204 Indigenous doctors – double the number from a decade ago
Reynolds, who graduated alongside seven other Aboriginal medical students, will start her first round of specialist training in the emergency department at St George Hospital in Sydney on January 18.
“We have all heard of campaigns like Closing the Gap and we know that Indigenous people have poorer health care than non-Indigenous people in Australia. So the more we [Indigenous doctors] get into it then the better it’s going to be in the long term for Indigenous people in Australia.”
Reynolds eventually wants to move back to Mudgee and help her own community.
“I don’t know where I am going to be in the future, but I think that it would be great to work in remote communities and eventually move back to country in Mudgee,” Reynolds says.
Allan Clarke is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.