Though she was the first Indigenous Australian woman to graduate from Oxford University, Aunty Kerrie Doyle counts her son’s achievement in getting into a nursing degree as her proudest moment.
The RMIT Associate Professor is a Winninninni woman who grew up on Darkinjung country in New South Wales, where she witnessed the need for better community health services first-hand – and she knows how vital Indigenous health professionals are to improving the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
RMIT News spoke to Doyle in the lead up to National Reconciliation Week to find out more about her research, her teaching and Indigenous health initiatives at RMIT.
What do you do at RMIT?
I am the Associate Professor of Indigenous Health and the Coordinator of Indigenous Health for the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT.
My areas of expertise are Indigenous health, mental health and cultural proficiency.
I am an Indigenous woman and growing up in my community I saw the health needs of Indigenous people first-hand. I’ve worked in health for over four decades and what excites me is seeing students succeed.
I often get emails from students that were in my lectures years back. I like to think I am able to contribute to students’ learning and foster cultural proficiency in our future workforce.
The theme for 2017 National Reconciliation Week is “Let’s take the next steps”. What steps has RMIT taken to encourage more Indigenous men and women to study health science – as well as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)?
RMIT leads the way in Reconciliation and sets an example in encouraging Indigenous people to study.
Recently our women scientists hosted a group of Indigenous girls and introduced them to lab work – white coats, test tubes – and the students had a blast!
The de-mystifying of science and demonstration of support was appreciated by the students and their teachers.
As for other STEM areas, last year RMIT hosted the inaugural Victorian Indigenous Engineering Winter School (VIEWS) where senior secondary students received a tour of engineering and Indigenous facilities across the City campus.
The health of Indigenous Australians remains well below that of non-Indigenous Australians and indigenous peoples in Canada and New Zealand. How is RMIT committed to addressing the gap in Indigenous health?
One of our biggest challenges is to close the gap in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. To do this, we need to all work together to get the best outcomes.
Under the direction of Professor Peter Coloe (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President of the College of Science, Engineering and Health) and Professor Charlie Xue (Executive Dean, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences), RMIT has demonstrated the highest commitment to closing the gap in Indigenous health by privileging an Indigenous voice in all our activities.
Indigenous research is funded across the disciplines in the College, while all health students have cultural proficiency workshops, ensuring the care they give as graduates will contribute to closing the gap.
We have created pathways to increase the recruitment of Indigenous students and have a dedicated space, Ngarara Willim Centre, at both the Bundoora and City campuses for Indigenous students to feel supported and welcomed.
What do you consider your biggest achievements?
Playing a role in the World Health Organisation’s Global Burden of Disease project and working with the University of Washington has been really interesting.
Being among the first cohort of Aboriginal people to graduate from Oxford was also an honour.
However, my proudest moment was when my son was accepted to study nursing. We need more Indigenous health professionals and I am convinced he’ll be an asset.
What do you enjoy about teaching at RMIT?
Teaching at RMIT means being part of a team. We have a collectivist approach to teaching and learning and this is evidenced by our publications and the way we all work together to support our University.
What are some of the student success stories you have been involved with and what sets these students apart?
One of the most impressive successes is Banok Rind, who is in her last year of nursing here and has already gained a postgraduate position.
Banok has come from a remote Western Australian community and has struggled to get an education. Now she is a confident spokesperson for Indigenous health and will go on to do great things in the future.
How important are mentors and role models for young Indigenous Australians considering studying STEM?
Role models are very important. As mentioned, the biomedical science team at RMIT have hosted a group of young Indigenous students and introduce them to the labs, offer to mentor them, and let them see that they can choose a career in any science.
Young Indigenous peoples need Indigenous AND non-Indigenous mentors, and at RMIT we recognise that.
What are the burgeoning areas in this field - where are the jobs?
Indigenous health research is a burgeoning area. We look forward to researching traditional medicines so there will be jobs for Indigenous people who live in rural and remote areas.
There are a lot of opportunities for research in all areas and because our graduates are of such a high quality, they are quickly snapped up by industry.
Where do you see your research area in 10 years?
We have some very exciting research teams in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT who are researching traditional Indigenous plants and practices.
I expect this will be an amazing space-to-watch over the next decade.
Story: Rebecca McGillivray