When Dr Samantha Olliver was accepted into James Cook University to study medicine in 2003, she quickly realised the unique challenges she faced as an Indigenous Australian and the first person in her family to attend university.
“I didn’t have anyone to show me the way,” Sam recalled. “I went blind into the profession, even networking was a big step for me.”
Sam went on to work as a registrar in the Australian Defence Force. When she realised that life wasn’t for her, she completed her final years of GP training in Darwin.
She felt isolated and unsupported at first, but then, everything changed.
Through a friend, Sam was introduced to the Indigenous General Practice Registrars Network (IGPRN), a network auspiced by GPRA for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander registrars.
“IGPRN understood me and what I was going through, I felt well supported and guided for the first time,” she said.
“IGPRN helped me get across the line for my fellowship exams. They provided me with mentors, there were study groups, and of course, the twice-yearly workshops.”
For Sam, the support IGPRN provided was revolutionary, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander registrars face unique challenges on their pathways to becoming general practitioners.
“Inside the study groups, we all understand where we’re each coming from… we’re not afraid to speak out, to ask questions or seek clarification.
“In previous study groups, I’d sit silent and not say a word, not ask any questions. I didn’t feel comfortable, and I didn’t want to slow the group down.”
According to Sam, getting more Indigenous Australians into general practice is an important step in closing the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians.
She said community-led solutions also need to be a focus.
“What we’re doing right now isn’t on the right path. There are intergenerational issues that are a difficult void to cross.
“When the community is involved in a decision around healthcare delivery, it has a great effect.”