AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship – spotlight on Dr Gemma Johnston

Australian Medical Association

Broome GP Gemma Johnston shares her experience since receiving the AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship in 2008.

Dr Gemma Johnston remembers growing up in Perth and rarely seeing an Indigenous Australian doctor. This became most apparent when her mother was receiving treatment for cancer. Not once was her mother offered the opportunity to speak with an Indigenous healthcare worker.

This lack of culturally appropriate care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is what spurred Dr Johnston on to pursue a career in medicine.

“I wanted to be part of changing that, and to try and provide appropriate care by being an Aboriginal role model for young people and doing what I always thought was not possible,” Dr Johnston, a GP and rural generalist, said.

Dr Johnston, 36, is now on the frontline of regional health, working every day to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through her work with the Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service (BRAMS).

Dr Johnston – the 2008 recipient of the AMA’s Indigenous Medical Scholarship – has become a bright light in regional healthcare and is currently running a renal clinic in Broome, treating pre-dialysis kidney disease patients.

“I work every day in primary healthcare to make sure the needs of the community are met, because primary care is the foundation for everything – for better health outcomes for communities,” Dr Johnston said.

Dr Johnston, who was born in Darwin and belongs to the Jawoyn people of the Northern Territory, said she places a strong focus on health literacy and education by making sure patients understand their basic health and primary healthcare needs.

“I will stay in primary care and Aboriginal health for a while. There is a lot of work to be done, and it takes a long time to build relationships with communities, to get to understand the wider picture that isn’t just health,” she said.

Dr Johnston, who hopes to inspire other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to pursue a career in medicine and wider healthcare, said the AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship was important in helping aspiring Indigenous doctors complete their studies.

“This is a passion of mine – if we can have more Aboriginal doctors, healthcare workers, nurses and carers, we would have more people with a seat at the table,” she said.

“We just need more people in roles that can activate that change.

“It doesn’t have to be those people sitting in government or parliament to make those big health policy decisions. It can be people just like me who are doing the grunt work -the GP work – but it is still change that needs to happen, and that can occur with more and more of our young people filling healthcare roles.”

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Learn more about the AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship

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