Three Indigenous medical students have been named as UNSW's inaugural Balnaves Scholars, pledging to work to close the gap on Indigenous health.
Tyron Clayworth, Kyharne Biles and Andrew Julian, from Port Macquarie, Dubbo and Sydney, are the first recipients of the Balnaves Scholarships, each receiving $25,000 a year for the duration of their six-year medical degree.
Sponsored by The Balnaves Foundation, the scholarships are some of the most generous in the country. The three students were presented with their scholarships during a reception attended by the Balnaves trustees this week.
Led by the former executive chairman of Southern Star media, Mr Neil Balnaves, The Balnaves Foundation supports eligible organisations that aim to create a better Australia through education, medicine and the arts with a focus on young people, the disadvantaged, and Indigenous communities.
In 2008 there were only 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical doctors in Australia, with another 120 in training. UNSW is the only Australian university with an open quota for Indigenous students, allowing all qualifying students from the pre-medicine program to gain entry to the degree. All three Balnaves Scholars graduated from the program.
Last year, UNSW's Faculty of Medicine had its largest intake (8) of Indigenous medical students, with four more students starting medicine in 2009. In total, 19 Indigenous students are studying medicine at UNSW compared to an average of just 7.5 for other universities that offer a medical degree.
Mr Balnaves said he decided to fund the UNSW scholarships after seeing first-hand the deprivations in Indigenous communities in central Australia.
"I was shocked by the conditions. There was such a discrepancy between how Indigenous people were living compared to how the rest of Australia lived - it was clear something had to be done," he said.
The three recipients believe there is a real need for qualified Indigenous doctors to help close the health gap between Aborigines and other Australians.
"Indigenous people want help - there's definitely a need - but people are also embarrassed about going to see a white doctor," Kyharne, who studied her HSC in Dubbo, said.
"The simple things they could be treated for they let them go - and that just creates bigger problems".
The students have the opportunity to complete three years of their medical degree at one of the University's Rural Clinical Schools, in Wagga, Albury, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.
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