NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Education Weekly Wrap of 5 articles and opportunities #rural, regional and remote


In this edition of Aboriginal Health and Education News

1. ANU Graduate Dr Danielle Dries helps close the gap

2.Applications are being sought for the 2017 AMA Scholarship

3. Doctor on journey to find health answers

4. AMA flags no more medical schools

5. Doctors welcome Government focus on rural medical training

6. GPs can and must do more to tackle obesity crisis says ANU study

7. Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme


Article I From ANU

ANU Graduate Dr Danielle Dries helps close the gap

Danielle Dries ( Pictured above ) a Kaurna woman from South Australia, has graduated with a Doctor of Medicine Doctor of Surgery with distinction from the ANU Medical School and now wants to close the gap on health and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Dr Dries, who graduates this week, is well on her way, working on Indigenous health during her studies and landing a Board Director position with Indigenous Allied Health Australia.

“Honestly I was surprised when I saw I was graduating with distinction because I have been so busy working on projects outside of my studies,” Dr Dries said.

“Moving around the country for my undergraduate studies and ANU medical school placements has been an amazing experience. I got into medicine because I want to help people in rural and remote Australia and I have dreams to end up there one day,” she said.

Dr Dries was appointed as the Indigenous Health Officer for the National Rural Health Student Network (NRHSN) half way through her degree and has been flat out since.

“I have been able to encourage people to get involved in Indigenous communities and promote health careers to Indigenous youth, as well as promote Indigenous health awareness among my peers,” she said.

Through her role with the ANU Rural Medical Society, Dr Dries was able to transform the annual ANU Close The Gap Day event into a two-day conference, attracting more than 130 multidisciplinary health students from across the country each year.

“We ended up with a two-day conference with five or six speakers on the first day and workshops for health students on the second day,” Dr Dries said.

“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me at ANU because a lot of the time when we are talking about Indigenous health, we tend to be talking to an Indigenous crowd, but 90 per cent of the people who attend this conference are non-Indigenous people.

“It gives us the opportunity to talk about the strength of Indigenous people, what we have achieved, and what we continue to achieve.”

Dr Dries will complete her postgraduate internship year at The Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital, while she sits as a Director on the board of Indigenous Allied Health Australia.

“At the moment it feels right to stay in Canberra and spend time with my family while working closely with some really important Indigenous health organisations,” she said.

Dr Dries is the fourth person in her family to attend ANU, with three brothers having studied engineering at the university.

Whilst at ANU Dr Dries received the inaugural Peter Sharp Scholarship, funded by the ACT Health. The scholarship was established to continue Dr Peter Sharp’s legacy in improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in the ACT.

Article 2

Applications are being sought for the 2017 AMA Scholarship 

The AMA recognises the critical importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors through the AMA Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarship scheme. Applications are being sought for the 2017 Scholarship from eligible Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students who have entered an Australian university to study medicine.

Since 1994, the Scholarship has assisted over 20 Indigenous men and women become doctors, many of whom may not otherwise have had the financial resources to study medicine. Previous AMA Scholarship recipients have graduated to work in Indigenous and mainstream health services, and some have spent time providing care in their own communities. Read the stories and profiles of past winners on the Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarship webpage.

The successful applicant will receive $10,000 each year for the duration of their course. Preference will be given to applicants who do not already hold any other scholarship or bursary. Applications must be received by 31 January 2017.

To receive further information on how to apply, please contact Sandra Riley, Administration Officer, AMA on 02 6270 5452 or email An application package can be also downloaded from the AMA website.

Article 3 From NIT

Doctor on journey to find health answers


Indigenous elder Doseena Fergie has been awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship to further her research into Indigenous health.

Dr Fergie works in the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Paramedicine at the Australian Catholic University’s Melbourne campus.

She was among 106 Australians announced as recipients of a 2016 Churchill Fellowship.

The Fellowship provides an opportunity for recipients to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen fields.

Dr Fergie will spend several weeks travelling to Finland, England, Canada, Hawaii and New Zealand next year where she will meet Indigenous elders, researchers, academics and health service providers.

“I hope to visit these Indigenous nations to find out the relationship between their intergenerational trauma through colonisation and culture and how they have managed to rejuvenate a sense of belonging and identity within their communities because we know the health disparities are just huge in all Indigenous Nations,” Dr Fergie said.

“I see a need to build relationships between the Indigenous communities I will visit and the Australian Indigenous community.

“We need to share our cultural ways and learn from each other and by doing so we can overcome the barriers of geographical isolation.”

Dr Fergie completed her PhD thesis on post-natal depression among Victorian Aboriginal women.

“If you have a passion for our own people and you’ve seen the needs out there, this passion should be expressed in a place of influence. I think academia is an important place for this work of advocacy,” she said.

Dr Fergie will be presented with her Churchill Fellowship at a ceremony at Government House in Melbourne in January.

Wendy Caccetta

Article 4 AMA Press Release

No more medical schools

The Federal Government has signalled a shift in policy focus from expanding medical school places to addressing shortcomings in the distribution of training opportunities as part of efforts to boost the number of doctors working in rural and regional areas.

Following sustained AMA advocacy on the issue, the Government has accepted that the country does not need more medical schools, and has instead identified the need to improve the spread of training places to enable more medical students and graduates to undertake their studies in rural and regional locations.

Assistant Minister for Rural Health Dr David Gillespie said a massive expansion in medical schools in the past decade meant the country was now producing more than enough medical graduates, and the challenge now was to increase the number choosing to train and practice outside the major cities.

“We’ve expanded medical undergraduate places by over 100 per cent since 2001, because we had an absolute shortage, but now predictions are that we’ll have 7,000 excess medical practitioners by 2030,” Dr Gillespie told ABC Radio. “So we want to look at the distribution of undergraduate training, see what works best, with the aim of addressing the shortage of medical practitioners in rural and regional Australia.”

The Health Department and the Department of Education and Training have been directed to undertake a joint assessment of the number and distribution of medical schools and medical student places.

“This assessment will be considered within the context of existing workforce modelling and data, two decades of workforce distribution policies, the expansion of higher education places, and the Government’s priorities to address the maldistribution of medical professionals across regional, rural and remote Australia,” Dr Gillespie said.

The move follows sustained pressure from the AMA, which has for several years argued that the nation does not need more medical school places, and should instead focus on boosting medical training opportunities in rural and regional Australia.

Delegates at the 2015 AMA National Conference unanimously passed a motion calling on the-then Abbott Government to reconsider its funding for the Curtin Medical School, and in mid-2015 the AMA presented the Government with a plan to increase prevocational training opportunities for junior doctors in rural and remote areas.

In its plan for improved rural health care launched in May 2016, the AMA detailed proposals to boost the country medical workforce by, among other measures, a Community Residency Program to provide prevocational GP placements and expanding the Specialist Training Program to 1400 places by 2018, with priority for rural and regional training places, as well as a greater rural focus for existing medical schools.

The AMA also jointly proposed with the Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia a comprehensive rural workforce incentive package, Building a sustainable future for rural practice: the rural rescue package.

Against this backdrop, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon welcomed the policy shift outlined by Dr Gillespie.

“The last thing we need are more medical schools,” the AMA President told ABC Radio. “What we need to see is an expansion of the investment in existing rural clinical schools and a serious look at the process of maybe reallocating numbers to those universities with rural clinical schools, or to schools that are in rural areas themselves.”

Dr Gillespie admitted that the current training structure, which provided limited opportunities for rural-based students and graduates, militated against increasing the number of doctors working in non-metropolitan areas, undermining access to care for rural and regional Australians.

“At key points in their training and development, the structure of the training system and a lack of advanced regional, rural and remote positions tend to force new doctors back to the cities, where they often settle,” he said. “The baggage one collects in one’s life, partner, mortgages, houses, friends, schools, children, if you’ve been there six or seven years, that’s where you more than likely stay.

“We must ensure access to high quality postgraduate training for the existing numbers of medical students and recent graduates in rural, regional and remote Australia.”

Article 5

Doctors welcome Government focus on rural medical training

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) has welcomed today’s announcement by the Federal Government that it will undertake a review of the distribution of medical school places in Australia, with a focus on encouraging more doctors to train and ultimately practise in rural and remote areas.

In announcing the review, the Federal Assistant Minister for Rural Health, Dr David Gillespie MP, emphasised the Government’s continuing priority to address the shortage of doctors in regional, rural and remote areas, and to develop ways in which this shortage can best be addressed.

“We strongly welcome this important review” RDAA President, Dr Ewen McPhee, said.

“It is clear that we already have more than enough doctors graduating from our universities to meet Australia’s overall doctor workforce needs now and into the future — but we still do not have enough young doctors choosing a career in rural and remote practice, whether that be as a general practitioner or another type of specialist.

“There is a pressing need to address this continuing maldistribution of doctors, and to shape both medical education policies and medical workforce policies to address this challenge at all stages of a doctor’s career — starting from the day they apply for a place in medical school.

“Research has shown repeatedly over many years that those who come from rural areas, or undertake medical studies or extended clinical placements in rural areas, are the most likely to return to rural or remote areas to work once they graduate from medical school.

“This is because they get to see how wonderfully rewarding a career as a rural doctor can be. To this end, the more medical school places that can be located in regional, rural and remote locations, the better. This could include expanding the existing Rural Clinical Schools across Australia.

“We also appreciate the strong recognition from Minister Gillespie of the challenges that young medical graduates face once they leave university and start to plan the next step in their medical career — this inevitably involves additional training in general practice or another specialty, and can be the point at which a young doctor gravitates to the city due to an often perceived lack of career opportunities in regional, rural and remote areas. We need to bust this myth.

“Queensland’s Rural Generalist Pathway is a prime example of the fact that advanced medical training can be delivered very successfully in regional, rural and remote areas — and it can actually lead to the reinvigoration of medical services like obstetrics in towns that had previously lost these services.

“We are very keen to see the Federal Government’s election promise of a National Rural Generalist Framework, and associated training pathway, implemented as soon as possible, so we can start to replicate the success of Queensland’s Rural Generalist Pathway right across the country.

“We look forward to working with Minister Gillespie, his Department and other stakeholders on this important review.”

Article 6

GPs can and must do more to tackle obesity crisis says ANU study

General practitioners (GPs) can and should do more to tackle the obesity epidemic in Australia, a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has found.

Two in three Australians are overweight or obese but half of patients in obesity programs drop out before achieving any results.

Dr Liz Sturgiss from the ANU Medical School led a pilot study which found GPs were well placed on the health frontline to help patients manage their weight, but they did not have the confidence to do so effectively.

“More and more patients are coming to GPs with obesity problems, and we want to give GPs the tools to assist their patients. The current guidelines for obesity patients are to refer them to a dietician. However, this doesn’t work for everyone,” said Dr Sturgiss, who is a GP and health researcher.

Her team – which includes GPs, nurses and psychologists – developed a toolkit that guides GPs and their patients through an evidence-based weight management program.

Part of the toolkit is taken from the field of psychology and measures the effectiveness of a relationship between a GP and patient to manage weight problems.

“GPs and patients with warm and respectful relationships, shared goals and good agreement on what to do to achieve those goals got the best results,” Dr Sturgiss said.

Dr Mel Deery, whose practice in Canberra was involved in the pilot study, said the research helped the practice to treat weight and obesity problems.

“Through the research project we helped a number of patients lose five to eight kilograms, which is a significant amount, and we’re continuing to use these strategies with patients. This work is vital as obesity is a major public health problem that can lead to heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many mental health problems,” Dr Deery said.

Dr Sturgiss said the research team would use the pilot study results to conduct a randomised control trial, which could inform public policy on health and guidelines in GP clinics across Australia.

The research is published in Clinical Obesity.

Watch the video interviews with Dr Sturgiss and Dr Mel Deery on the ANU YouTube channel.

Article 7

Indigenous health scholarships

Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme

Applications open now; close 15 January 2017

The Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme (PHMSS) is available to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people who are studying a course in ATSI health work, allied health, dentistry/oral health, medicine, midwifery or nursing.

It is an Australian Government initiative designed to encourage and assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate students in health-related disciplines to complete their studies and join the health workforce.

The scheme was established in recognition of Dr Arnold ‘Puggy’ Hunter’s significant contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and his role as Chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

Application form

Online application form

Australian College of Nursing apologises if the application form is not working at the moment. The problem is a hardware problem with our internet supplier, and not with ACN systems. We hope the problem will be rectified soon.

Applications are open now; close on 15 January 2017.

Please note the ACN office will be closed from midday December 23 and re-open on Monday 9 January 2017 at 9am. If you have any questions about the application or the process it is strongly recommended that you contact ACN prior to December 23 by email on or call 1800 688 628.

Eligibility criteria

Applications will be considered from applicants who are:

  • of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent
    Applicants must identify as and be able to confirm their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status.
  • enrolled or intending to enrol in an entry level or graduate entry level health related course.
    Courses must be provided by an Australian registered training organisation or university. Funding is not for postgraduate study.
  • intending to study in the academic year that the scholarship is offered.

ACN receives high volume of applications; meeting the eligibility criteria will not guarantee applicants a scholarship offer.

Eligible health areas

  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health work
  • Allied health (excluding pharmacy)
  • Dentistry/oral health (excluding dental assistants)
  • Direct entry midwifery
  • Medicine
  • Nursing; registered and enrolled

Value of scholarship

Funding is provided for the normal duration of the course. Full time scholarship awardees will receive up to $15,000 per year and part time recipients will receive up to $7,500 per year. The funding is paid in 24 fortnightly instalments throughout the study period of each year.

Selection criteria

These are competitive scholarships and will be awarded on the recommendation of the independent selection committee whose assessment will be based on how applicants address the following questions:

  • Describe what has been your driving influence/motivation in wanting to become a health professional in your chosen area.
  • Discuss what you hope to accomplish as a health professional in the next 5-10 years.
  • Discuss your commitment to study in your chosen course.
  • Outline your involvement in community activities, including promoting the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship scheme is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and administered by the Australian College of Nursing.

Important links

Links to Indigenous health professional associations

Contact ACN

t 1800 688 628


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