• Beimop Tapim served as the medical officer for HMAS Darwin when it was deployed in the Middle East. (Royal Australian Navy)Source: Royal Australian Navy
The Torres Strait Island of Mer welcomed its first resident doctors earlier this month, and both were Indigenous.
Aaron Smith

11 Mar 2019 - 10:26 PM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2019 - 10:32 PM

The first Indigenous resident doctors on the Torres Strait Island of Mer started practising earlier this month when Dr Beimop Justin and his wife, Dr Emma Madams joined the community's medical centre.  

Dr Tapim, a Meriam man from the Dauar clan, is a Traditional Owner of Mer and grew up on the island, but left to attend high school on the mainland, joining the Royal Australian Navy after graduating.

Dr Madam is a proud Kamilaroi woman from Tamworth, New South Wales.

The two doctors are part of Queensland Health's 69 doctors and 577 nurses and midwives who identify as being Indigenous.

“It was either go into sport or a job in the army or the navy, I knew that when I finished high school that I wanted to get out and work in other places, and I played both Rugby League and Union as well,” Dr Tapim told NITV.

“I had a lot of encouragement to apply for medical school from the Navy, and it was pretty much just one foot after another until I qualified,” Dr Tapim said.

Dr Tapim said it is important to get more Indigenous doctors working in the community, because it encouraged Indigenous patients were more likely to access regular health checks if they felt comfortable and relaxed. He said language was also key to building trusting doctor-patient relationships.

“Essentially the language barrier is massive, so this is important in both comprehension and rapport building," he said. "I think that is really important for patients to really digest the information in about their condition or which way their health is heading.”

“While it's early days but I hope this will break down some of those barriers. We're all just human after all and I am also not the best patient, so I get it.

“Its about just getting patients informed and educated about better life choices and preventative medicine and I don't think we can really do that by hopping in and hopping out again. That's why we've chosen to live in community.”

The father of six said it was important for his children to access their culture as they grow up just as he had, so moving back to Mer was an easy decision.

"I’ve spent a lot of years away with the navy and it’s time for me to be closer to family,’’ he said.

Since completing his service with the navy in March 2017, Dr Tapim had been working as a trainee GP in Cairns alongside Dr Madams. 

Dr Madams began her career as a registered nurse before going on to earn her medical degree from the University of Newcastle and embarking on a new career as a doctor in the Hunter Valley and New England regions of New South Wales.

Head of top end health board offers congratulations

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Board Chair, Bob McCarthy, congratulated Dr Tapim and Dr Madams on their appointment and welcomed them into the health service.

Mr McCarthy said the health service was committed to investing and building the capacity of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce.

“This is fundamental to improving life expectancy, addressing health inequality among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and making services culturally safe,’’ he said.

“To this end, the Torres and Cape HHS has a comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy in place – both to increase the number of Indigenous people working in our health service and to improve the skills and career opportunities for those already working for us."

Mr McCarthy said the workforce strategy would be supported by the recent recruitment of Venessa Curnow as its new Executive Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

“These initiatives are designed to further strengthen the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our health service governance and in our overall workforce,” Mr McCarthy said.

Member for Cook Cynthia Lui congratulated the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service for its role in helping make this historic appointments of Dr Tapim and Dr Madams a reality.

“This is a wonderful testament to the growing number of qualified and experienced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in both clinical and non-clinical areas that are finding employment in our health services across Queensland," she sai

This story was produced in partnership with regional Queensland newspaper Torres News.