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Dr Shirley Godwin

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 2 July 2012

Dr Shirley Godwin, senior lecturer in Indigenous Health, University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, WA

Why did you decide to become a medical educator?

Before I began studying medicine, I worked in Aboriginal health research. It grew on me that the key to improving Indigenous health outcomes was education. Not just patient education, but also what the patients could teach the doctors. Within the health sector, there was a lot of talk about capacity-building of Indigenous students, but at medical school I realised that a lot of the other students needed capacity-building to deal with Aboriginal patients. From first year medical school I started to think about the influence of Indigenous medical education and how we could translate that into outcomes.

How did you get involved in Indigenous medical education?

When I graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2010, a job came up with the University of Notre Dame. I’m a Bardimia Yamatji woman from Western Australia so it was a chance for me to pursue my interest in education and go back to where my mob is from.

What does the job involve?

The job of the Aboriginal health team is to develop the Indigenous health medical curriculum and embed it across the 4 years of the course. The aim is for students to achieve a set of foundational skills to use with Indigenous patients. We don’t expect students to be experts, but hopefully they will come out feeling comfortable with Indigenous patients. Also, it’s all based on delivering holistic, patient-centred medicine, so if you get it right for Aboriginal patients you will get it right for all your patients.

We also develop strategies to recruit and retain Indigenous students, facilitate partnerships with community organisations and local Aboriginal people and provide a strong Indigenous presence on campus.

What advice do you have for other young doctors interested in this career?

There’s a lot of talk nationally about the development of Indigenous medical education as its own specialty so it’s a good time to get involved. Aboriginal people need to be at the centre of the process, but we can’t do it on our own. I would encourage students to take up every opportunity. Medical school is very intense and it can feel like all the focus is just on getting through, so it’s important to be aware of other career development opportunities.

Students could make contact with the Indigenous health team at their medical school, choose Aboriginal health electives, take up tutoring, or get involved with mentoring programs.

It’s also important for doctors to know that if they pursue this career they won’t be out on their own. There are plenty of supportive people and organisations such as the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) network and the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association.

  • Cate Swannell


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