Indigenous Intern Pathway
Published: 16 March 2022
Dr Rebecca Alverez is a proud Ngunnawal woman from Canberra and a junior doctor at Townsville University Hospital.
She is also the first doctor to take part in the Indigenous Intern Pathway, a mentorship program designed to provide culturally appropriate support for Indigenous doctors.
Rebecca said there were only positives to having a dedicated mentor program for Indigenous doctors, especially when it came to improving health outcomes for the community.
“We should be encouraging more Indigenous people to become doctors and having a dedicated mentor program to support people interested in pursuing this career will help the community in the long-term,” Rebecca said.
“We have such a large Indigenous population in Townsville and even just by sharing who I am and my story with patients has allowed them to open up to me and trust their care a little more as its coming from someone who understands them.”
Rebecca said her inspiration for becoming a doctor was firmly rooted in the work she did in Indigenous health care as a nurse.
“I previously worked in Indigenous health and I have always been passionate about improving outcomes for our mob,” she said.
“We see and experience so many adversities and I realised there wasn’t many of us who were doctors and could provide firsthand and culturally safe care.
“That was when my journey started, first as a nurse in Townsville and then through a medical degree in Victoria.”
Rebecca said she was glad to return to Townsville and find so much support for her locally.
“I have two children and we’re a very outdoorsy family who love the active lifestyle we have in Townsville,” she said.
“I’ve found a lot of support locally despite not having any family here and having this structured pathway has been really beneficial for me as I find my feet, navigate a new career and hospital and life as a single mum.”
Indigenous pathways coordinator Amy King said she wanted to develop a program that meant the intern always had someone in their corner.
“What I really wanted was a program there to provide background support for the interns,” she said.
“We want someone to be in their corner from the day they step into the hospital when you don’t have those networks or connections yet.”
Dr Lisa Waia, a cultural mentor for the program, said she thinks having access to a pathway like this would have made all the difference for her as an intern.
“One thing I did struggle with as an intern was not having an Indigenous mentor – it is so important to have a cultural connection with someone who understands the hurdles you face,” Lisa said.
“A lot of us don’t come from medical backgrounds and even though you work your way through medical school and walk into the hospital, it is all still brand new so having the support is crucial.
“Programs like this pathway have the ability to impact us in a really positive way and increasing the number of Indigenous doctors is one of the biggest driving factors in closing our health gap.”
Rebecca said her advice for aspiring Indigenous doctors is to take the first step and have the conversation.
“I really do encourage any Indigenous people thinking of taking this pathway or interested in becoming a doctor to reach out and have a yarn with Amy,” she said.
“I’ve had a colourful journey; I’ve been through a lot and I was never the best in school or top of the class and I relied on being a determined person to get me through.
“Even if people tell you that you can’t do it, or you don’t have the confidence to try, I know you can.”