NACCHO Aboriginal Health: Indigenous doctor striving to break the obesity cycle

Doctor Keevers

“Coming from an indigenous family and seeing that all of my uncles­ and aunties have been overweight for most of their lives and have concurrent illnesses with Type 2 diabetes is definitely a factor,”

“I’ve always been into fitness myself but I’ve seen others in the community who haven’t had the same health and obesity education and how it gets locked into low-socio-economic cycles.”

Medicine graduate Justin Keevers might become the first indigenous doctor to specialise in obesity-related­ surgery.

“There is an emphasis for surgeons not to be super-specialised but I like the idea of becoming an upper-gastrointestinal surgeon with an interest in obesity after seeing how it affects the indigenous community and general popul­ation,” Dr Keevers said.

From The Australian

The 29-year-old former electrician was one of eight indigenous doctors who graduated from Sydney’s University of NSW medicine faculty last week after receiving scholarships from The Balnaves Foundation.

Dr Keevers moved to Sydney from the far north coast of NSW in 2007 and was soon fed up trying to make ends meet as a sparky, so ­applied for medicine through the university’s Nura Gili Pre-Medicine Program.

The program gave him the support base he needed to settle into university life and stick at the ­degree. “I think half of us hadn’t been to school in over five years so that initial stuff about how to write essay­s and assignments, those integ­ral skills that they expect you to have out of high school, was very helpful,” said Dr Keevers, who started as an intern at Prince of Wales Hospital this week.

The six years of study included a year alongside a bariatric surgeon in Port Macquarie, on the NSW mid-north coast, where he formed a plan to tackle the obesity-related diseases that plagued his community back in Byron Bay.

“Coming from an indigenous family and seeing that all of my uncles­ and aunties have been overweight for most of their lives and have concurrent illnesses with Type 2 diabetes is definitely a factor,” he said.

“I’ve always been into fitness myself but I’ve seen others in the community who haven’t had the same health and obesity education and how it gets locked into low-socio-economic cycles.”

Philanthropist Neil Balnaves said Australia was “crying out” for more indigenous doctors and the scholarships were a way of responding to the call. The number of indigenous doctors across the country has doubled in a decade to 204, but for population parity Australia needs 3000.

“We wanted to … dramatically the drop-off rate of students and that was simply about housing the students in the university and surrounding them with mentors and emotional support,” Mr Balnaves said. “Not only are they all graduating but the dropout rate is less than non-indigenous students … (these) young men and women will graduate as doctors and go back with an understanding of their heritage and medicine and … the language and culture.”

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