By HARRY CLARKE
AFTER four years of hard work, sacrifice and maintaining self belief, one of Queensland’s newest indigenous doctors is now beginning his medical career at the Toowoomba Base Hospital.
Dr James Tronc, originally from Chinchilla, worked as a paramedic for eight years in Townsville before taking the plunge into a medicine degree at the University of Queensland.
That was in 2017, and today he is one of six new UQ medicine graduates of Aboriginal heritage now embarking on a career as a doctor.
There’s a rural doctor shortage and there’s an indigenous doctor shortageDr James Tronc
Dr Tronc, 35, said he aspired to become a rural general practitioner to help fulfill a doctor shortage in remote areas, and in particular provide better healthcare for indigenous Australians.
“I absolutely loved the role of a paramedic – it’s a great honour – but I wanted to look for something that would satisfy me a bit more long term, where I could give a bit more,” Dr Tronc said.
“Practicing in chronic disease prevention and management is what I’ve got a bit more of an interest in.
“As a paramedic I worked in indigenous communities in and around Townsville. In that role you get to see the need. We need doctors working in rural areas because there’s a rural doctor shortage and there’s an indigenous doctor shortage.”
Dr Tronc, an Eastern Arrernte man whose ancestors come from the central desert region of the Northern Territory, is one of a growing number of indigenous Australian doctors.
There are now close to 300 currently practicing and roughly the same number currently studying medicine, according the Dr Noel Hayman, founder of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association.
Dr Tronc said his studies taught him there was a five times greater child mortality rate among indigenous children and “nearly three times greater health burden” compared to the non-indigenous population.
If they see a welcoming face, someone who understands their story and where they come from, they’re more likely to engageDr James Tronc
To improve long term health outcomes for first Australians and to help “close the gap” in indigenous health care, he said it was imperative for more indigenous doctors to be on the front line.
“We know indigenous people often present a lot later in their disease process, so they’re coming at the end stage of disease,” Dr Tronc said.
“Given our poor healths states, if you go to hospital, you’re more likely to stay there for longer, you’re more likely to die than a non-indigenous person.
“These little things are barriers and indigenous people tend to see that and they tend to stay away.
“But if they see a welcoming face, someone who understands their story and where they come from, they’re more likely to engage.”
Dr Tronc said he became a paramedic because he was inspired by his mother and aunties who work in indigenous health care.
He developed an ambition to become a rural doctor during his early career but, as a busy father of two, he initially doubted whether the dream could ever become a reality.
“It is a big task. You think about all the years of study you have to do just to get your medical degree, and then you have to go through four or five years of fellowship after you graduate,” he said.
“I thought it would have been impossible. But I sat down and really thought about it, and it was a decision I really didn’t want to regret later in life – to finish up and not have done it.”
“I was extremely proud (when I graduated medical school).
“It was very emotional, it’s one of the only times where I’ve sat down and had a spontaneous little cry to myself, it was very overwhelming, there was lots of hard work and lots of personal sacrifices and family sacrifices to get here.