“Of course, it is not my position to make a judgement,” Associate Professor Emma Kennedy says. “I might value my education and my family’s experiences and opportunities highly – and I do – but that doesn’t mean those things are of more value than the life of someone who has grown up and appreciated what the land means to them.
“I had a patient in a wheelchair who preferred to be living in the long-grass, outdoors near a beach. There were so many well-meaning people trying to move him into a house, but he really valued the lifestyle that he had.”
As the Director of the Northern Territory Medical Program, Emma is re-shaping educational experiences for medical students in the Northern Territory. She is very conscious of the need to equip graduates with an understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
As a practicing GP and leading medical academic based in Darwin, Emma is excited about the opportunity to build a workforce equipped to practice in the NT.
“Practicing medicine in the NT has given me an equally strong sense of what needs to happen and also the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health,” Emma says.
“I get frustrated by the ignorance which means policies and decision making don’t adequately provide for the populations that are in dire health need.
“Being a doctor enables me to evaluate why people are unhealthy.
“When the answer comes back (from the patient history that the cause is) disrespect, lack of dignity, or lack of understanding about culture and health, I take all those examples and look at how we can address them in the curriculum.
“The medical profession has a lot of power in being able to define things and raise awareness of them, so in my position I need to be aware of how that power is managed.
“Because there is such a health need and because the health need sits within a larger context, we need to address the ignorance about Aboriginal culture in order to make a significant impact on health.
“Our initiatives to focus on the individual more is significant for all Territorians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, because with better understanding and communication we can get them the healthcare they need.