From a young age, Yamatji man Daniel Curran was deeply affected by the inequality he saw around him.
He spent most of his childhood on the island of Guam, where he said Indigenous people barely had any access to health care.
“It was the same situation when we were living in Wagga, Wagga, and where my brothers were born in Alice Springs,” Daniel said.
“There was just no funding and no support.”
Daniel saw those same barriers affect his nearest and dearest.
“You know, having a brother with a heart condition and not being able to get proper treatment, and my cousin passing away from cancer at a young age...
“This is one of the most pressing issues in the community, in all the places I've lived,” Daniel said.
Around the country, the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is around 8 years less than that of the non-Indigenous population, according to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Having lived experience with this shocking disparity, Daniel decided to pursue a career in medicine to prevent more Indigenous people from dying young.
'Never thought it could be a reality'
When Daniel turned 25, he went down to Maccas to use their free Wi-Fi, and Googled ‘how to get into university as a mature age student’.
If someone told him then that he would be named Shell Aboriginal STEM Student of the Year at the 2021 WA Premier’s Science Awards, he wouldn’t have believed them.
“I never thought it could be a reality. I never thought I could do something like medicine.”
Now, Daniel is just over two years away from becoming a doctor.
At the awards presentation, WA Premier Mark McGowan said we’re reminded more than ever of the important work those in STEM fields do.
“Over the past two years, we have seen scientists at home and around the world rapidly develop solutions to the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr McGowan said.
“They are using their STEM skills to solve real-world problems and improve people's lives.”
While Daniel knows he wants to work in Indigenous health in the future, he said he’s not exactly sure what that would entail.
“I don't want to say that I want to do this or that. I want to look at what communities need the most and go from there,” he said.
Daniel said he thinks the health outcomes of First Nations communities would improve with more Aboriginal people in the workforce and better access to culturally safe services.
According to data from the Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand, 65 Indigenous Australians graduated from medical school in 2020.
That’s a 600 per cent increase in Indigenous medical graduates over 10 years.
MDANZ CEO Helen Craig told NITV that whilst medical schools are committed to doing more, the number of First Nations people enrolling in medicine has grown to be 3.2 per cent of all commencing domestic medical students, which is almost representative of the country’s Indigenous population.
'They can overcome that too'
As the first person in his family and circle of friends to attend university, Daniel hopes to inspire more young people like him to chase their dreams.
“I know what it's like to have domestic violence in the household. I know what it's like to have an alcoholic parent.
“I've been there. I've ticked all ‘those’ boxes, and if kids are in those same positions, they can overcome that too.”
But part of overcoming that, Daniel said, depends on people in authority giving a chance to kids who come from adversity.
“Those kids have massive potential, and they just need guidance, some belief and an opportunity."
When Daniel began his enabling course at Curtin University’s Centre of Aboriginal Studies, he said the late Dr Rachna Aggarwal approached him to ask what he wanted to do.
“‘I told her I wanted to do medicine, and she said, ‘if you work hard, we'll get you there.”
“It was the first time in my life where someone said, ‘you can do it,'” he said.
Before she passed, Dr Aggarwal made sure Daniel would become the first Aboriginal tutor at Curtin’s Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme.
Now, Daniel hopes to carry on her legacy by encouraging more Aboriginal students to believe in themselves.
“I'm not just trying to get me through med, I'm trying to reach back and put that ladder there for others to climb up who haven't had the opportunity.”
“I think for enabling course students to see someone in medicine who's more than halfway through, who is Aboriginal saying, ‘yeah, you can do it, too’ goes a long way.”