The University of Newcastle and the University of New England both offer a five-year Bachelor of Medicine Program that delivers the same curriculum content, known as the Joint Medical Program. In 2012, the Miroma Bunbilla Pre-entry to Medicine program was developed to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students successfully completing the Joint Medical Program. This case study reports on the development, implementation and evaluation of the first pilot program of Miroma Bunbilla by the Discipline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, and discusses student outcomes.
The University of Newcastle has played an historic role in graduating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from its medical program. Professor Sandra Eades and Dr Louis Peachey were the first Aboriginal doctors to graduate from the University in 1985. Since that time the School of Medicine and Public Health has made the recruitment and graduation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students a priority with a number of targeted initiatives which began with Indigenous entry program developed after researching the barriers to enrollment and exploring pre-entry programs offered in Canada and New Zealand (Lawson, Armstrong & Van Der Weyden 2007; Kay-Lambkin, Pearson & Rolf 2002).
In 2004 the total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students in Australia was 102, with 24 (23.5%) enrolled in the Joint Medical Program (Minniecon & Kong 2005). In 2014 it was estimated that there were 260 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students (AIDA 2014), 48 (18.46%) of whom were enrolled in the Joint Medical Program. In that same year, there were around 180 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors in Australia (AIDA 2014); of these 66 (36.6%) graduated from the University of Newcastle or the University of New England.
The requirements for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Entry Pathway at the University of Newcastle, and more recently through the Joint Medical Program that commenced in 2006, have changed over the years. In the mid 1990s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants were interviewed in their home community prior to being invited to attend a mandatory, one-week preentry to medicine program. Following the completion of the program, the applicants were then assessed based on their performance during the week – along with their academic ranking and the medical program interview – to determine if they would be offered a place. This program ceased in the late 1990s and was replaced with an assessment of the applicant’s academic ranking, an interview (the same as for all other applicants) and an interview to confirm the Aboriginality of the applicant.
From 2008–2011 a one-week orientation program was offered to successful applicants prior to the commencement of Semester 1. In addition, ongoing student support also involved one-on-one and group tutoring for each subject via the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme, cultural camps, pastoral support and a mentoring program. Additional student support was provided by a past graduate of medicine from the University of Newcastle Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Entry Pathway, who was employed to provide intensive academic support.
Despite these additional supports, it was concerning that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students were still not achieving the required marks to continue through to graduation. In one of the student cohorts of that period, only 25% of students commencing first year continued on to second year, with the completion of the medical science and professional practice courses being identified as significant barriers to success. Outcomes such as this motivated a review of the selection and support processes and resulted in a revision of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entry process.