RACGP congratulates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Award winners


The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) congratulates 2020 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Award winners for going above and beyond to care for their patients and communities.

2020 Award winners

· Standing Strong Together Award. Dr Sarah Gleeson, based in Goondiwindi, Queensland.

· Growing Strong Award. Dr Justin Hunter, a Wiradjuri man based in Sandringham, New South Wales.

· Medical Student Bursary. Ms Joanne Kaczmarek, a Torres Strait Islander medical student at James Cook University.

Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Professor Peter O’Mara congratulated the winners.

“This year’s recipients are truly exceptional and an inspiration for our profession.

“When it comes to closing the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes, GPs play a significant role but are rarely recognised for their work and achievements. These awards are an opportunity for us to highlight the best of the best, and inspire the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.”

The Standing Strong Together Award celebrates partnerships between GPs and communities to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This year’s winner Dr Sarah Gleeson has spent nearly 10 years working with the Indigenous community in Boggabilla, New South Wales, forging strong relationships and working to overcome barriers to care for patients. Dr Gleeson provides outreach services to Boggabilla Community Health from the Goondiwindi Medical Centre, a mainstream general practice across the border in Queensland.

In 2019, Dr Gleeson created a role for an Aboriginal Health Worker at Goondiwindi Medical Centre, which came to fruition this year when Rebecca Bell started in the role. She also worked with her team to establish Closing the Gap days at Goondiwindi Medical Centre, providing a walk-in clinic and culturally sensitive health assessments with Aboriginal Health Workers, GPs and Practice Nurses skilled in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Professor O’Mara said Dr Gleeson was a shining example of how GPs can work with communities to close the gap.

“Dr Gleeson’s efforts have made a real difference for Indigenous patients in Boggabilla, with a measurable increase in those accessing care, including for chronic disease and antenatal care.

“She has achieved this by working together with the local community, building relationships and gaining trust, and really working to understand the barriers to care and seeking to overcome them with her patients.”

The Growing Strong Together Award recognises an exception Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander GP in training.

This year’s winner Dr Justin Hunter grew up in Gumbaynggirr country in Coffs Harbour, and graduated from Notre Dame in 2017. During his medical degree, Dr Hunter undertook placements at Galambila Coffs Harbour AMS, where he developed relationships with the local community, igniting his passion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Dr Hunter now works as a Medical Officer in the Royal Australian Navy, and is eager to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors in the defence force through mentorship. He is currently based at Tharawal AMS at Airds in Western Sydney, and says seeing a patient’s reaction when they meet him and find out he’s an Aboriginal doctor is what moves him and motivates him to be the best GP he can.

Professor O’Mara commended Dr Hunter for his passion and achievements.

“Australia needs more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors like Dr Hunter – his hard work and passion have resulted in significant achievements at a very early stage in what I am sure will be a long and successful career.”

The Medical Student Bursary is awarded to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander medical students who are currently studying.

This year’s winner Joanne Kaczmarek’s journey to medicine doesn’t fit the common narrative. The proud Torres Strait Islander from Badu Island completed an accounting degree after high school and excelled as a corporate manager over a ten year career in the Australian Public Service, with diplomatic postings to Myanmar and Nauru.

Joanne’s career came to a crossroads when the death-in-custody of a 22-year-old Western Australian woman hit the news. She was saddened and enraged at yet another Aboriginal death in custody. Having always had an interest in health and passion for serving her community she decided to connect the dots and become a doctor.

Joanne is now in her third year at James Cook University, completing a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery. Her goal after graduation is to become a rural GP, and eventually to return to the Torres Strait as a doctor.

Professor O’Mara congratulated Joanne for her achievements and commitment to help her community.

“While studying hard to become a doctor, Joanne is also committed to numerous volunteer roles and is already actively working to improve health outcomes for Indigenous communities.

“Few people have the courage to make a major career change later in life, and doing so shows the passion one has for a their calling. In Joanne’s case, I have no doubt that you can go on to achieve so much more and improve access to quality healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

It comes as the RACGP celebrates the 10-year anniversary of its National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, founded in 2010 to help ‘close the gap’.

Now with over 11,000 members, the Faculty is focused on growing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GP workforce and ensuring high-quality culturally responsive care.


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