"I hope to lead by example to show other Indigenous doctors and students that they too can overcome adversity and obstacles to achieve their goals as medical professionals."
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

16 May 2017 - 4:43 PM  UPDATED 16 May 2017 - 4:43 PM

Growing up in central Queensland, the son of a barrister and a solicitor, Anthony Murray was always encouraged to try, to do his best, and to succeed.

When his brother David went into medicine, Anthony followed in his footsteps.

Last year, David became Australia's first Indigenous general surgeon. Now Anthony is an orthopaedic registrar, and on his way to becoming the country's first Indigenous orthopaedic surgeon.

"As much as it is a badge of honour, it's also kind of sad," Dr Murray tells SBS.

"It's a good thing that people are hearing about the success - it puts the word out there that we're moving forward, which is great. 

"If people see an Indigenous doctor... that will increase the number of people who say, 'hang on, I can do this too'." 

Dr Murray has just become one of two recipients of the first annual RACS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander SET Trainee One Year Scholarship. 

The scholarship, which is provided by the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) and Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices, helps Indigenous doctors become surgeons.

Dr Murray says the $20,000, 12-month scholarship will help him cover the costs of his training and research, and allow him to focus on working hard and getting the best outcomes for his patients.  

"My brother went into surgery, it was a natural progression for him - he has that sort of hands-on, functional mind," the Dharug man says.

"If people see an Indigenous doctor... that will increase the number of people who say, 'hang on, I can do this too'." 

"I have a very keen and very long sporting background. I had quite a bad knee injury and I got operated on by an orthopaedic surgeon, and the orthopaedic surgeons and orthopaedic registrars that I dealt with at that time were all really good guys, and always really nice people to talk to and hang out around.

"So I looked into it a bit when I was going through medical school, and just knew that surgery was for me, and I think I just had a natural calling towards orthopaedics."

Orthopaedic surgery ranges from joint replacements, to fixing deformities in children, and trauma surgery as a result of car and motorbike accidents.

Dr Murray, who works at the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, says an average day for him is "very long and very involved". 

"If it's a day that I'm on call I get up at 4.30 in the morning and I go to the gym for a couple of hours, and then from 6.30am I start at work," he says.

"We tend to go and do a ward round on all the orthopaedic and trauma patients, so that takes quite some time, and then [we go] to theatres to operate. We have operating theatres available to us from 8am until midnight. So if you're on call, like I am this evening, you'll operate all day and then continue into the evening. And then from midnight until 7am you'll be on-call, which is essentially for life or limb-threatening surgery that needs to be done in the middle of the night, so this is car crashes or motorbike crashes, people who have significant injuries or significant illness, infected joints or things. So we see the very worst side of things. We'll operate throughout the night if necessary. And then we're back at it again at 6.30am."

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Despite the long days, Dr Murray says it's incredibly rewarding work helping everyone from little kids to the elderly. 

"To see someone who has got a debilitating disease or what you think may be unsalvageable injuries, and then to see them after a few weeks walk out the door is just incredible," he says.

"Or a little old lady who unfortunately has debiliating osteoarthritis in her knee, she can't go to her bowls club and she can't enjoy her life, and she's been sequestered away for 10 years at home with pain. And then three months later she's back being an active part of her community.

"For me, that's the most rewarding thing. It's that gratification, you can expedite someone's happiness."

 

Now, Dr Murray is keen to make sure we see more Indigenous representation in medicine, and encourage others to follow in his footsteps.  

Currently, only two surgeons who are fellows of RACS self-identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, out of more than 4,800 surgeons practicing in Australia. 

"We want to increase the numbers of Indigenous fellows, trainees, staff at all levels," he says.

We need to have numbers that reflect the number of people who identify as Indigenous Australians.

"We want to increase the numbers of people across the board, who are capable of performing an operation just like anyone else, but have an Indigenous background. We need to have numbers that reflect the number of people who identify as Indigenous Australians.

"I hope to lead by example to show other Indigenous doctors and students that they too can overcome adversity and obstacles to achieve their goals as medical professionals."

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