It Starts with a Stethoscope
A two-hour drive from Broome will lead you to a small town called Derby with a population of four thousand people. The community had never had a full-time Aboriginal doctor in the community, until Dr. Vinka Barunga graduated from medical school in Western Australia in 2016.
When her mother bought her a plastic stethoscope as a child, Dr. Barunga could envisage her desire to become the first Aboriginal doctor in her community. Dr. Barunga is no stranger to harsh medical conditions having seen many people in her community affected by alcohol abuse or diseases including diabetes. Regular visits back home from Perth helped drive her passion and determination for the changes that were required for her community.
The journey to becoming a doctor was not an easy one for Dr. Barunga. She lost both her parents to illness during medical school. However, her determination to make her mark never changed. During medical school, Dr. Barunga failed her third year, but with a strong support network including family, her community and the university, Dr. Barunga persevered with her journey to become the first Aboriginal doctor in Derby.
Her graduating class also saw a total of six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors completing their degrees from the University of Western Australia – the highest seen in the university’s history. Throughout her medical training, Dr. Barunga has been driven by the sadness she felt from the travesty of the health standards she saw in the Australian Aboriginal community. Once she finished her degree, she was determined to work with Indigenous communities by incorporating medical practices from traditional and modern medicine.
Now, Dr. Barunga is back in the small town of Derby, where the community struggles with ear and skin infections, and illnesses caused by substance abuse and poverty. She is learning that studying and professional practice are very different from one another. She aims to give the community a sense of purpose and give back by making a difference. Her work as a doctor in Derby has seen her treating members of her family and friends, adding to the rewarding career she has made for herself.
It will be interesting to see how Dr. Barunga’s determination to better the health status of her community will develop from the girl in the small town of Derby who was given a stethoscope from her mother.