• Indigenous doctors graduating from UNSW in 2015 Only six of eight wished to be photographed. (UNSW)Source: UNSW
The graduation ceremony on Monday from UNSW's Department of Medicine included more Indigenous graduates than ever before.
Andrea Booth

14 Dec 2015 - 2:49 PM  UPDATED 14 Dec 2015 - 3:52 PM

Eight Indigenous medical students graduated from the University of New South Wales on Monday, constituting the highest number of Indigenous medical students to graduate from UNSW in a single year. 

The highest number of graduates before that was six, which occured in 2014.

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Gumbayngirr man Brendan Phillips, who grew up in western Sydney but calls Coffs Harbour on the NSW mid-north coast home, says Indigenous doctors are essential to increasing the life and health expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Indigenous Australians are more than three times more likely to suffer from diabetes, and have a life expectancy that is 10 years shorter than non-Indigenous Australians, according to the 2015 Close the Gap report.

"The absence of Indigenous doctors in my community growing up was something that really stood out to me," Phillips said.

"I personally have never been treated by an Indigenous doctor," Phillips told media. "But would love it if I had that option, because they are likely to better understand the social concerns, health issues and family dynamics specific to Indigenous people."

"I have never been treated by an Indigenous doctor, but would love it if I had that option, because they are likely to better understand the social concerns, health issues...specific to Indigenous people"

Graduand Justin Keevers, a former electrician, wants to become the first Indigenous doctor to specialise in obesity-related surgery.

"The burden of obesity-related type 2 diabetes among Indigenous adults is much greater than non-Indigenous people and this appears to be rising," says Keevers.

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There are 204 Indigenous doctors registered in Australia, double the number from a decade ago. Thirty-eight of them have graduated from UNSW.

Yet the amount is still far off from the almost 3,000 needed for population parity, says the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association.

Thirty-eight students have graduated from UNSW and 47 more are enrolled in medicine at the university, composing almost 18 percent of 265 Indigenous students currently studying in Australia’s 19 medical institutions.

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UNSW Dean of Medicine Professor Rodney Phillips says the 2015 graduation day has been exciting.

"UNSW's Indigenous Entry into Medicine Scheme is a competitive program helping to redress the current imbalance which results in the Indigenous population struggling to get access to an Indigenous medical practitioner," Professor Phillips says.

The graduands note, however, that scholarships are helpful to enable study opportunities amid Sydney’s high cost of living.

UNSW launched its Indigenous medical entry scheme in 1998, the same year Australia's first Aboriginal surgeon Kelvin Kong graduated. 

Photo: (from left) Justin Keevers, Mitchell Sutton, Mikayla Couch, Madison Reynolds, Brendan Phillips and Nigel Beetson.