The largest intake of Indigenous medical students ever to a single Australian course has been accepted into Flinders University’s new Northern Territory Medical Program (NTMP).
The Flinders University cohort of 14 Indigenous students in first year medicine in 2011 – 10 based in the Northern Territory and four in South Australia – compares with the total of nine Indigenous students who graduated in medicine from all of Australia’s universities in 2009.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon welcomed the class of 24 commencing NTMP students at an orientation event in Darwin last week.
Dean of Flinders School of Medicine, Professor Paul Worley said a major aim of the NTMP was to train people from the Territory, in the Territory, to work in the Territory in the future.
“Flinders recognises that training more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become doctors and nurses and other health professionals is a critical part of the Closing the Gap initiative,” Professor Worley said.
“The NTMP adheres to Flinders’ pioneering principles of training students in and engaging with local communities. Given that the students in the program are bonded, they’ll be required to provide some clinical services in the NT following graduation,” he said.
“This will have a tangible effect on the number of medical graduates willing and able to work in the NT in the long-term, with numbers set to increase to a cohort of 40 students in the third and fourth years of the program.”
A total of 24 Indigenous and non-Indigenous students will enter the new four-year Flinders Graduate Entry Medical Program in the Northern Territory in 2011. Each student has already completed at least a Bachelor degree in another field.
Most have also successfully completed the GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test). Others have gained admission via the new Indigenous Transition Pathway, which involves an interview and an intensive four-week preparation program.
“This group of Indigenous students has the potential to transform the health workforce in the Northern Territory so that Closing the Gap becomes a reality,” Professor Worley said.
“We also expect that as these high-achieving students graduate, young people in their communities will see them as mentors and role models,” he said.
“We hope it’s a watershed moment for many Indigenous communities and families.”
Professor Worley said the establishment of the NTMP was the result of a team effort across Flinders School of Medicine in both SA and the NT.
“The creation of the NTMP has involved the enormous commitment of many people and a high level of coordination and consultation,” he said.
“I would like to commend them for their dedication to this special cause in Indigenous health education and their crucial roles in bringing the NTMP to fruition.”
It is the first time Territorians have been able to undertake their entire medical studies in the Northern Territory.
In another first, Flinders in partnership with Charles Darwin University is also offering a six-year double degree for school leavers wishing to study medicine.
CDU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Barney Glover said the Northern Territory Medical Program was a great outcome, not only for CDU and Flinders University, but also for the Territory as a whole.
“Through this collaborative program, we aim to recruit local students, particularly Indigenous students, into medical education pathways. The long-term result will be local doctors more likely to stay in the Territory after they graduate armed with local knowledge to tackle local problems,” he said.
“CDU’s new medical science courses, including the Bachelor of Clinical Sciences and the Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Sciences are hugely important elements of the medical program and growing the CDU/Flinders partnership as a whole.”
Dr Tom Calma, National Patron of the Poche Centres for Indigenous Health network said that the NTMP “epitomises how effective partnerships between governments, organisations/institutions, philanthropists and the Indigenous community, working in a strategic way, can meaningfully contribute to addressing Indigenous health inequality. This is the philosophy of the Poche Centres”.
The NTMP is the result of partnership between the Australian and Northern Territory Governments, Charles Darwin University (CDU), Flinders University and local communities.