Opportunities to apply real life skills and knowledge attained at university are extremely valuable to any university student.

To gain insight into their future profession, School of Medicine students recently visited Palm Island with second-year students Blake Jones and Shruti Yardi the first to go.

second-year medicine students Blake Jones and Shruti Yardi

Second-year medicine students Blake Jones and Shruti Yardi

Both Blake and Shruti are coordinators for HOPE4HEALTH’s Indigenous Portfolio. Blake’s a Biripi man from the area around Port Macquarie, NSW and Shruti is from a non-Indigenous background and a passionate supporter of Closing the Gap. They spent time at the Palm Island Children and Family Centre, which is managed by doctors Raymond Blackman and Vicki Stonehouse, who fly in from Townsville every day to support the more than 5,000 people from 55 different cultural backgrounds and languages currently living on Palm Island.

Blake says this cultural diversity provides a perfect opportunity for medical students to fully understand the need for cultural sensitivity in First Peoples’ health.

“You learn about diagnosis and disease management at medical school, but that’s the easy part,” he explains.

“Culture is so pervasive on Palm Island, so social history is the first thing to consider in disease management.

“It dictates everything they do and is the main factor in formulating a treatment plan that patients can adhere to.

“There’s no point simply telling patients to eat more fruit and vegetables because although some do hunt their own food and grow their own plants, fresh supermarket produce is far more expensive than fried takeaway.

“Besides diagnosis and management of a complex range of health conditions, the general practice clinic also deals with issues like ‘Sorry Business’ and housing.

“In some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, when someone dies it’s significant to the entire community because they’re all family,” says Blake.

“This is ‘Sorry Business’ and can extend to a month, during which time medical certificates are required for time off work.

“The clinic also issues certificates for people who for health reasons need housing with running water and this aligns with a social determinants approach to health which we are taught about at university.”

Blake says the trip reinforced his determination to be a doctor and wants to return to Palm Island as soon as he can.

“The experience would be invaluable to anyone studying medicine.” Shruti agrees.

“This is definitely something all medical students should do because although we’re taught about First Peoples’ health, you don’t necessarily get the full picture until you see it up close,” she says.

“Dr Vicki and Dr Raymond were an inspiration to me.

“The entire community embraced us and although I’m a non-Indigenous student, I felt comfortable during our visit.”