Dr Rebecca Alvarez


Resilience, passion, and a deep-seated commitment to community

As the sun sets over the North Queensland city of Townsville, the streets start to quieten down, but inside Townsville Aboriginal & Islander Health Services (TAIHS), Dr Rebecca AlvaRez is just wrapping up another busy day.

Rebecca is a proud Ngunnawal woman who sees National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June) as another vital period for reflection and setting goals for the future.

To truly discover what makes Rebecca the inspirational First Nations doctor she is today, it’s best to reflect on Rebecca’s journey to becoming a GP – a story of resilience, passion, and a deep-seated commitment to her community.

Growing up in Canberra, Rebecca was acutely aware of the health disparities faced by her people.

“Seeing the repeated health disparities faced by mob and the lack of familiar faces – Indigenous doctors who you could go to for help – was a significant inspiration for my career in medicine,” she recalls.

Her inquisitive nature and desire to understand the ‘why’ behind things set her on a path to a medical career.

Before she donned a doctor’s coat, Rebecca worked as a Registered Nurse, which gave her an early glimpse into the healthcare field and fortified her resolve to make a difference.

Rebecca studied medicine at Deakin University, graduating in 2020 – but her journey was anything but smooth.

“I was a single mother and survivor of domestic and family violence whilst studying medicine,” she recalls.

“I lived in a regional town with minimal support and hours away from my family. Studying was hard and there were many times where I felt I couldn’t do it.

“But each time I’d look at my babies, I knew I needed to persevere and get through it so I could provide us with a future that not only was something I was passionate about, but something that is such a necessity for mob.

“I got through my medical degree and then began my hospital internship.”

The challenges Rebecca faced were numerous. During her hospital internship, she experienced a devastating personal loss when her uncle was murdered.

“The ripple effect of this throughout my family was soul destroying, but I didn’t let this stop me”, she said.

“I used the pain of my uncle’s passing to motivate me to continue moving forward.

“Last year I also had some unexpected health issues arise which involved surgery, and I had colleagues recommend I take time off or reduce my hours to part-time. This was something I was not interested in doing.

“Fast forward, I am now a GPT3 Registrar, nearing the end of my GP training and I have successfully passed a third of my GP fellowship exams.

“I’ve learnt that all of the little bumps in the road were tests for my resilience, and opportunities for me to reflect on the deep question of ‘why am I doing this?’

“These moments have been invaluable in helping to ground me and provide me with that driving force to continue.”

One of the most poignant moments in Rebecca’s career came early on.

“I was an intern and had just picked my kids up from after school care,” she explains.

“We were on our way home and as we were waiting for the traffic lights to change to green, we witnessed a car versus motorbike accident.

“The person on the motorbike was hit by the car causing him to be expelled from the motorbike.

“I got out of my car as a first responder and provided assistance, which included CPR.

“As I was providing compressions, I looked up and saw my children in the car calling out positive words of encouragement.

“The injured person was eventually taken away by an ambulance and I later found out that while sustaining some broken bones and a head injury, he survived.

“It was this experience that made me realise that being a doctor is something I’ve been called upon to do.

“Through the knowledge and skills I’ve gained as a doctor, I was able to save another person’s life.”

Rebecca believes a good GP needs to be an active listener, willing to go that extra mile, and walk with patients on their health journey.

“Advocating for patients is such a fundamental part of being a GP and you need to be comfortable in speaking up for them,” she said.

“As a GP we are given the responsibility in providing the gateway for patients to access multidisciplinary services.

“We are also beautifully placed in being able to provide a holistic service to not only the patient in front of us, but their family and community.

“As a GP you need to be comfortable in dealing with uncertainty and know that you have the benefit of time to help achieve outcomes. “

For Rebecca, general practice offers a unique opportunity to make a long-term impact on her patients’ lives, especially for her First Nations patients.

“I wanted a career that I could not only help mob, but work with mob through their health journey long term,” she explains.

“I enjoy the diversity of work that general practice provides me and the ability to work within a multidisciplinary team to advocate for mob.

“I also appreciate being able to provide a preventative health service where I work alongside patients to make positive changes for their health.

“I enjoy being able to provide a service that extends beyond the physical health to include a focus on the spiritual, mental, social and emotional health.”

During National Reconciliation Week 2024, Rebecca’s message to other First Nations people considering a career in medicine is clear and encouraging: “Do it!”

“Yes, it may seem hard, and you might feel like it’s impossible, but believe me, it is possible,” she said.

“Mob needs more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors to provide that familiar face and culturally safe place.”

Rebecca draws inspiration from First Nations trailblazers such as Uncle Dr Louis Peachey, one of the first Indigenous doctors.

“He has paved the way for mob to pursue a career in medicine and general practice. His continued tireless work and advocacy is something I aspire to work towards,” she says, highlighting the importance of role models in her journey.

Rebecca’s vision for her future in medicine is expansive.

In the next 5-10 years, she sees herself still at TAIHS, providing subspecialty services such as residential aged care, addiction medicine, prison health, outreach clinics, and a specialist clinic for neurodiverse children.

“These are areas that I continue to see a growing need for, but unfortunately there are a lack clinicians to provide these services,” she said.

Rebecca believes National Reconciliation Week provides an opportunity to look at how far we’ve all come and set active goals for moving forward.

“It allows everyone, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to come together to have these important and difficult discussions to ensure everyone is working with a united front and with the same goal,” she said.

Dr Rebecca Alvarez’s story is certainly one of incredible strength and dedication.

As we recognise National Reconciliation Week 2024, her journey serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of resilience, the impact of culturally competent healthcare, and the need for more Indigenous voices in primary health care.

Through her work, Rebecca is not only providing essential care but also paving the way for future generations of First Nations doctors.

Townsville photo by David Goulding