A powerful force for Indigenous health

For Townsville GP Jacinta Power, seeing women through their pregnancies, the birth of their babies and watching their children grow never grows old.

“I really love women's health.  I think that's what keeps me going. I get to see the pregnant women, the new babies and then the children. It’s definitely my area.”

The former JCU medical student Fellowed as a General Practitioner through JCU General Practice Training in Townsville last year. Making her only the second Indigenous doctor to complete the program so far.

Dr Power completed the final years of her specialty training with the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service (TAIHS) and has remained with the service as a GP and cultural mentor.

As an Indigenous doctor, she always wanted to use her skills to better the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“I wanted to do Indigenous health, whether it was a mainstream clinic with a focus on Indigenous health, or in an Indigenous organisation.

“There’s a spiritual connection there, another level of connection.  Whatever specialty I chose, it was always going to be something that I would use to help my people,” Dr Power said.

Working in the Aboriginal medical service has allowed her to do just that. A decision validated by a chance meeting with an Aboriginal Elder who helped set up Australia’s first Aboriginal medical service in Sydney’s Redfern.

“She came into TAIHS and she just broke down crying to see how far we had come.  From the early days when she was trying to set up the first Aboriginal medical service to being at TAIHS, which is an Aboriginal and Islander service, and then to be seen by an Indigenous doctor was amazing.

“To her, that was the goal. To get to the stage where we could be looking after our own mob.  That was a really special moment.”

Townsville indigenous GP Dr Jacinta Power

Indigenous GP Dr Jacinta Power consulting with a patient at the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service (TAIHS)

Growing up on a farm in rural north Queensland Dr Power always wanted to work in the health field, a desire driven by the loss of her brother to cancer as a child. But as a shy teenager, she lacked the confidence to aim for medicine. A problem exacerbated by a school guidance counsellor who told her she wasn’t smart enough to study physics in her final years. It wasn’t until she read the story of the inspirational African American neurosurgeon, Ben Carson that she felt she too could try for medicine.

“He came from such a disadvantaged low socioeconomic background and showed he could get to the top.  He overcame so many hardships and went on to have such a big impact.  It was inspiring.”

Yet she still doubted her own ability.

“I honestly thought I couldn’t do it.  I graduated from a high school in a small rural town. I think I was the first to go into medicine.  It seemed like something out of reach.  I was just so shy and introverted.”

Despite her misgivings, Dr Power secured a place in the JCU medicine degree in Townsville.  She was attracted to the program for its focus on rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.  She believes the rural training JCU students get during their degree gives them an edge going into their intern year.

“JCU has made a name for itself because its students learn a lot of skills in their rural placements.  Whereas you might not learn them if you go through some of the other medical schools.  You certainly go into the intern year knowing you have a good set of skills.”

Many of her friends came from large families rife with poor health and high suicide rates.  She saw them struggle to complete their courses while struggling with family tragedy.  She also saw the impact of crippling self-doubt many Indigenous students suffer from.

But having completed medical school, her intern years and now specialist training, Dr Power would love to inspire other Indigenous students.

“I would say to them to give it a go and just believe in yourself because it is very daunting. I had such low confidence, thinking I wasn’t as good as everyone else.  But you are.  You’re as good as anybody else.  And medicine is attainable, it is doable.”

While Dr Power is enjoying her general practice work with the Aboriginal medical service, long term she’d like to focus on preventative health with a focus on nutrition.  An area she sees as key to tackling chronic disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

If you are interested in improving the health of people and communities like Dr Power, consider studying medicine at JCU.