• Dr Kris Rallah-Baker, a Yuggera and Biri-Gubba-Juru/Yuggera man, became first Indigenous ophthalmologist. (Fred Hollows Foundation)Source: Fred Hollows Foundation
Leaders in Indigenous health are calling on Australia’s peak ophthalmology training body to apologise to an Aboriginal doctor.
NITV Staff Writer

9 Nov 2018 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 9 Nov 2018 - 10:00 AM

A medical college CEO has been accused of dismissing an article written by Australia’s first Indigenous ophthalmologist who described his personal experiences of institutional racism.

In an article published in Insight magazine, Kris Rallah-Baker described some of the difficulties he experienced while training.

“My own dealings with blatant racism, degradation, training delays, bullying, harassment and racial vilification are unfortunately considered an unremarkable experienced amongst my Indigenous medical brethren,” he wrote.

“Institutionalised racism, unconscious bias and cultural insensitivity might sound like buzzwords people kick around, but they are real and their impact is real.”

Dr Rallah-Baker went on to recount “countless instances” of racism by people who “had the ability to directly influence progression or failure through the training program.”

He called for more initiatives to encourage young Indigenous people to study ophthalmology. Currently, Dr Rallah-Baker is the only Indigenous ophthalmologist.

David Andrews, the CEO of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), wrote an open letter in response.

In it he acknowledged a number of cultural awareness initiatives are in place, as well as avenues for staff who are dealing with bullying and discrimination.

“We are continually seeking to improve the training and support available to all trainees and we look forward to the opportunity to support and train other Indigenous candidates through the training program,” he said.

“While it is true that more Indigenous ophthalmologists would be a positive step, it is not true that only Indigenous ophthalmologists can be dedicated to, and culturally sensitive in, providing excellent eye health services.”

But, a group of Indigenous health experts said Dr Andrews’ response undermined Dr Rallah-Bakers’ credibility, and said they need to take his concerns seriously.

A letter, penned by Indigenous health advocates including academic Chelsea Bond, slammed the organisation’s CEO for his letter, which they believe “discounted and dismissed” Dr Rallah-Baker’s experiences, without investigation.

“We urge RANZCO to take up the call for necessary institutional reform needed to ensure that Dr Rallah-Baker is not the first and last Indigenous ophthalmologist in this country,” they wrote.

“We urge you to listen and learn from his experiences.”

Dr Bond told NITV News RANZCO should apologise.

“At no point in his editorial did he acknowledge the validity of Dr Rallah-Baker’s claims. He is the only Indigenous ophthalmologist, and to be treated this way publicly – it’s a public shaming of a respected medical professional,” she said.

“It’s clear whitesplaining... The response represented Aboriginal people as being in need of saving, and not being trusted to tell our own experiences.”

NITV News contacted Dr Andrews, and he said he had no comment.