A year ago, medical student Vinka Barunga was determined to become the first Aboriginal doctor in her community. Now, the Worora woman is about to graduate, alongside a record number of Indigenous medical students.
Ella Archibald-Binge

17 Nov 2016 - 5:06 PM  UPDATED 30 Nov 2016 - 12:50 PM

Last year, NITV’s Living Black spent a week with the young doctor-in-training as she undertook a medical placement in her hometown of Derby, Western Australia.

Derby has never had a full-time Aboriginal doctor, and many of the locals were excited to see a home-town girl on her way to graduating from medicine.

"I hope it makes them think 'oh she's done it, I can tell my grandchildren that I went to hospital and saw an Aboriginal doctor'," she told NITV at the time.

Now, Vinka’s goal of becoming Derby’s first Aboriginal doctor is set to become a reality, with the 27-year-old about to graduate from the University of Western Australia on Saturday.

The past seven years have been incredibly challenging for Vinka, who lost both parents to illness during her time in university.

She failed her third year of study, but supported by family, the university and her community, Vinka never lost sight of her goal.

“I’m a firm believer that if you fail something, that doesn’t mean you can’t still achieve it,” she says.

“If that’s your dream then you should go for it, and that’s not just medicine, it’s whatever dream you have.

“Don’t let the prospect of possible failure deter you from trying… there’s lots of people out there who are willing to support you along the way.”

Vinka is one of six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical graduates in her cohort – the highest number ever seen at UWA.

She and her fellow Aboriginal graduates have led a push to wear special red, black and yellow stolls as part of their graduation regalia. Also available in Torres Strait Islander colours, the adornment can now be worn by all Indigenous graduates at the university.

Vinka’s cohort has also pushed for an official Welcome to Country before every graduation ceremony at UWA, rather than the previous Acknowledgement of Country.

For Vinka, the reality of graduating didn’t sink in until she received an internship offer addressed to Dr Barunga: “It did hit a little bit when I was signing… it’s pretty exciting!”

Next year, she’ll undertake an internship at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, and will spend the next three to four years in bigger centres learning the ropes as a junior doctor.

But she hasn't lost sight of her roots. When asked if she'll return to Derby, Vinka says “Absolutely,” with no sign of hesitation.

“It always has, and will be my goal to get back there.”

Now, it’s just a matter of time.

Home-grown Derby girl to be town's first Aboriginal doctor
Vinka Barunga is a proud Worora woman, determined to be the first Aboriginal doctor in her community – but definitely not the last.