Closing the gap

The first Indigenous medical student to graduate from UNSW on a Balnaves Foundation Scholarship says the unique program played a key role in his success.  

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Making a difference: Neil Balnaves AO, Dr Andrew Julian and Prof Peter Smith

The first Indigenous medical student to graduate from UNSW on a Balnaves Foundation Scholarship says the unique program played a key role in his success.

Dr Andrew Julian celebrated with his family, the UNSW community and the Executive Chairman of the Foundation, Neil Balnaves AO after the ceremony.

“The generosity of the Foundation made me more determined to complete my degree and do well,” said Dr Julian, who begins a two-year internship at St George Hospital in Sydney next year. “It made all the difference, allowing me to study without worrying about money.”

“This is a wonderful day for Andrew and we offer him our heartfelt congratulations,” said Mr Balnaves, at a reception for the doctor after the graduation ceremony. “We believe there’s a real need for qualified Indigenous doctors to help close the health gap between Aboriginal people and other Australians.”

The largest ever survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics recently, showed a widening gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities for many conditions such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease, asthma and osteoporosis. The life expectancy for Indigenous Australians remains around 11 years behind that of other Australians.

“We wanted to create a practical, workable way to close this gap and this is the aim of our Balnaves Foundation-UNSW Indigenous Medical Student Scholarship,” said Mr Balnaves. In 2009, the Balnaves Foundation made a 15-year commitment to fully support a number of Indigenous medical students through their six-year medical degree at UNSW.

While Dr Julian is the first to graduate on this scholarship, there are currently seven other Indigenous medical students supported by the Foundation completing their studies at UNSW. This will increase to 15 students over the life of the program.

UNSW has the country’s largest number of Indigenous medical students, with 56 students currently enrolled out of a total of 260 nationwide. Another 10 are engaged in postgraduate degrees with UNSW Medicine.

In congratulating Dr Julian, the Dean of UNSW Medicine, Professor Peter Smith, also acknowledged the foresight of the Foundation: “The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Medical Scholarships provide an absolutely essential enabling pathway into medicine for prospective Indigenous doctors, many of whom could not even contemplate doing an undergraduate degree in Medicine without financial assistance.”

While the young doctor does not yet know which area he plans to specialise in, he is determined to “make a difference”.

“By working and living in the community, I hope I can empower Indigenous people to take responsibility for their health,” Dr Julian said. “This is the key to help close the health gap between black and white Australia.”

LISTEN: Story on ABC Radio's PM program

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media Office, 0422 934 024

 

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Making a difference: Neil Balnaves AO, Dr Andrew Julian and Prof Peter Smith