(Nadine Saacks, 2018)
Funding for new scholarships supporting Indigenous medical students studying at University of New South Wales Sydney (UNSW) were announced by the NSW Health Minister last Tuesday.
The scholarships will be provided by the Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) and will support two students over five years of training before they head back to the west of the state for a 12-month internship upon graduation.
The funding will go to the existing Shalom Gamarada Scholarship Program, which offers the students full board and accommodation at UNSW residential Shalom College.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the government hopes the support will allow a future doctor to come to Sydney from Western NSW, and then return there after graduation to further their career at home.
“Each of these graduates is not just doing it for themselves, they are emissaries for greater things,” he said.
“The government, through our LHD, has recognised the value of this program and to be able to add and contribute to new scholarships is a privilege.”
Former Shalom College Director Dr Hilton Immerman said the new scholarships were very significant in increasing the number of Indigenous Australians studying and practicing medicine at UNSW.
“There has been concern about the fact Indigenous retention rates are generally below 50 per cent, but one of the things this program has done is increase retention rates; we have had a 90 per cent pass rate, and over 70 per cent completion rate,” he said.
UNSW graduate and former scholarship recipient Josef McDonald said the investment in the scholars was essential.
“By supporting Indigenous medical students, we can increase the number of Indigenous doctors,” he said.
“The education of non-Indigenous students in Indigenous health is also vital to destigmatise the subject with the hope of increasing participation.
“This is not only in the spirit of reconciliation but also with the hope it will improve Indigenous health outcomes.”
Since 2009, the Shalom Gamarada Scholarship Program has helped 41 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders graduate from UNSW, 23 of them as medical doctors.
The government says around ten per cent of all Indigenous doctors in Australia have received support from the scholarship program.
With several graduates from the college recently taking up placements at Dubbo Base Hospital in central west NSW, it is clear that this program is worth the success it’s bringing in!