Kimberley Calling

Kimberley Calling – Camels

Medical student, Alex Hall, talks about her time spent in and around Broome for her Indigenous Health Training First Wave Scholarship placement in December 2011.

I was lucky enough to visit beautiful Broome for a week last December as part of the Indigenous Health Training First Wave Scholarship program provided by General Practice Student Network (GPSN) and WA General Practice Education and Training (WAGPET). When I found out where I would be placed I was over the moon – Broome was somewhere I had never been and always wanted to go. Naturally, I associated Broome with the heat, pearls, beautiful beaches and mango beer and, if all of these things were available in one little town, then this was the town for me. I was definitely not disappointed – Broome is one of the most beautiful places I have visited - but for me, the most rewarding thing about my trip was so far removed from the tourist resorts and perfect weather. I experienced Broome from the perspective of a medical professional, which was both inspiring and confronting. From interviewing and examining patients in the ED at Broome Hospital, to talking about fishing with Aboriginal Health workers over morning tea at Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service (BRAMS), I gained a comprehensive understanding of how Indigenous health is approached in the Kimberley. I also quickly realised that I could get used to working in a place where the doctors wear shorts and t-shirts and knock off at four!

 

The poor quality of health of the Indigenous population, especially in the Kimberley region, has been reiterated many times over my first three years of medicine. To be honest, I really did not understand or appreciate the full extent of the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health needs until I witnessed it for myself during my week placement. Watching the doctors treat a 34 year old woman having a heart attack in ED and learning how to treat newborn babies with scabies was confronting and I felt very helpless. I quickly came to appreciate how important the role of an Aboriginal Medical Service is in providing Indigenous people with culturally appropriate healthcare, and how successful they can be.

 

The highlight of my trip was visiting the Aboriginal community of Bidyadanga with the doctors who visit the clinic every week. It was so far removed from the placements I have had at clinics in the city. Flying an hour south of Broome in a tiny 4 person plane, landing on a stretch of red dirt just outside the town and being driven into the community in the ‘ambulance’ (a landcruiser) was a much better way of getting to work than catching the train! Whilst I loved the medical side of this placement, the most enjoyable aspect involved chatting with the Aboriginal Health Workers in the community clinic about their lives, their jobs and the people they look after and work with. I learnt some great tips about how to catch and cook turtles (I’m not sure how useful this will be in Perth…), but also how to show respect for an elder Aboriginal patient and how best to talk to a new Indigenous mother about breastfeeding in a way she could relate to. Although I gained many new clinical skills during my time on the wards, in ED and at BRAMS; the most valuable thing I learnt was how rewarding your work can be if you take the time build a relationship with both the patients you see, and the people you work with. I learnt things that I could have never learnt from reading a textbook and for me that was the most valuable lesson.

My week was not all work, however, and I had many chances to experience Broome as a tourist. I saw the sun set over Cable Beach, drank mango beer at Matso’s brewery, went to Oasis with the RCS students to see the wet t-shirt competition (one of the newer tourist attractions…), learnt about the pearling industry, visited the Christmas markets and learnt how to complain like a local about the lack of rain! I met many students, doctors, nurses and health workers from all around Australia and the world who made me feel very welcome and made my time in Broome much more worthwhile.

 

I cannot speak more highly of this scholarship and the experiences I had during my stay. I must thank Dr David Atkinson from Kimberly Aboriginal Medical Services Council (KAMSC) and Karen Russell from WAGPET who organized my trip and were both so willing to help me out in any way possible. I recommend it to anyone in third or fourth year who is interested in rural medicine or Indigenous health; those considering RCS in fifth year; and those who otherwise would not get a chance to experience medicine in a rural or remote community. Not only did my week in Broome open my eyes to the pros and cons of rural medicine, but it has also provided me with confidence and new skills as I begin the clinical stage of my degree this year.

 

For information about the First Wave Scholarship visit www.gpsn.org.au

 

Feel free to contact WAGPET with any questions

 

 


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