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Indigenous communities welcome University of Adelaide medical students

The AMSS APY Exchange has had another successful year! With the guidance of the NPY Women’s Council, we ran three, week long holiday programs for the young people of the APY Lands, and during this time we formed and strengthened special relationships with the communities. This year we expanded the program and sent 12 students over three trips to two communities; Pukatja and Amata.

We had a great time engaging the kids in activities that were interwoven with subtle messages of good health, friendship and compassion. Whether it was through playing basketball, painting the town in tie-dye or cooking up BBQs and big batches of fried rice for the community, we were constantly motivated by these energetic and engaged young people. Other highlights were the bush trips, where the kids and Elder women showed us how to dig for tjala (honey ants) and maku (witchetty grubs), cook damper and malu wipu (kangaroo tail) in the hot coals, and told us stories about their families and the land that is so intrinsic to who they are.

There are two major learning points to come out of our program. The first is that we will always learn more than we can teach. We are coming as guests to the APY Lands, and it is a complete privilege to share a week with communities that display such strength, unity and determination. The second is that there is a great need for improved availability of health services in the APY Lands communities. The established clinics and full time nurses are doing an admirable job at providing ongoing, high quality care to the people on the Lands. However, there is variable but consistently limited access to doctors, both GPs and specialists, which is one of the many factors compounding and contributing to ‘the Gap’ in health equity and outcomes. All of our participants displayed consistent or increased confidence in working with Aboriginal patients after the trip, as well as an eagerness to work in rural and remote health for at least part of their medical career.

We are enormously proud of how our volunteers have contributed their ideas, insight and energy to the program. We would like to thank the NPY Women’s Council for their ongoing collaboration and friendship. A heartfelt thanks is also extended to our major sponsors, GPEx and the AMSS, for their consistent support and enthusiasm in strengthening our program.

Students’ quotes from   this year’s program:
“Spending the week in Pukatja has greatly enhanced my understanding of the complex cultural interactions and factors impacting on the physical, emotional and spiritual health of Indigenous Australians.”

“While I still have a huge amount to learn about how best to provide care to Indigenous Australian patients – the AMSS APY Exchange has given me an insight into the richness, diversity and complexity of Indigenous culture which is invaluable when aiming to provide holistic care.”

Student Reflection
In October, I was lucky enough to be one of the four medical students who travelled to Pukatja (Ernabella), the largest community in the APY Lands. This unique program was generously funded by our primary sponsors, GPEx and the Adelaide Medical Students’ Society (AMSS). The running of the program is organised by fellow medical students, as it has been for several years. We were well supported as NPYWC Youth Program volunteers and worked with the community Youth Worker to run a school holiday program during the week.

Our program involved opening “the youth shed” during the day and having a range of activities on offer to stimulate, entertain and teach the children and adolescents in the community. The activities included painting, drawing and other craft, cooking and healthy food education, playing sports (lots of sports!) as well as dressing up as doctors and nurses. In the July holidays of this year, another group of medical students had visited and ran a similar program including teaching the kids how to use some of the medical equipment. It was fantastic to see the children retain those skills and be keen to be involved again; they all wanted to check each other’s ears and use the blood pressure cuffs! Toothbrushes and toothpaste were also hot property and again it was great to see the children well-practiced in these skills.

Some evenings we had movie nights, another night was a very popular disco and through the support of the Youth Worker, we also ran a “Kunga night” for the teenage girls. This involved some education about puberty and menstrual health through the use of Aboriginal education resources. It was wonderful to see all of these activities so well-received by the children and community; we were very fortunate to be welcomed into Pukatja.

This program was an excellent way to gain snapshot into “life on the lands” and the challenging but rewarding experience it entails. We were exposed to some of the difficulties related to the degree of isolation, the complexity of domestic violence and the varying levels of health literacy in the area. This first-hand experience and exposure to the true definition of social-determinants of health provided us with a deeper understanding of some of the issues faced by Indigenous people.

We hope to have been positive role-models for the children in the community and were very sad to leave at the end of the week. Our interactions with the community and the people who live there inspired us to return in the future and to become more involved with Indigenous health. Upon our return, we all noted that we feel more comfortable and competent in our interactions with Indigenous people; whether that be in healthcare or general life. This is a result of our increased cultural awareness which is most strongly developed through incredible experiences in communities such as these. We would like to thank GPEx for their ongoing sponsorship and support in allowing us to have this opportunity.

Student Reflection was written by Kathryn Sharley – Fourth Year Medical Student (The University of Adelaide)


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