Written By

Janine Lucas

College

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

23 June 2021

Related Study Areas

JCU graduate Dr Nathan Passi wants to inspire a new generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and create change in Indigenous health.

The Townsville University Hospital (TUH) emergency medicine registrar is proud of his Torres Strait Islander heritage. The theme of NAIDOC Week in 2021, Heal Country, holds special significance for Dr Passi’s family as direct descendants of Sam and David Passi, two of the five Murray (Mer) Islanders whose battle for recognition of their legal rights as traditional land owners resulted in the landmark Mabo ruling.

“Country represents identity, spirituality and connection,” he says.

“Country is very important to my people, and my family, as my ancestors fought for recognition of Indigenous land rights and Indigenous identity as plaintiffs in the Mabo case.

“This NAIDOC Week [4-11 July] I would encourage people to read about Indigenous history, learn about your local area and really connect with the country we are so fortunate to live on.”

Doctor in emergency room
Mount Isa scenery
Townsville University Hospital registrar Dr Nathan Passi started his emergency medicine training in Mount Isa (right).

Taking time to connect

Dr Passi’s training in emergency medicine has included two rotations to Palm Island, the largest Indigenous community in Queensland, which he says has had the biggest impact on his career.

“Emergency medicine is a fast-paced specialty. It’s all about quick assessments and decisions. No one wants to come to the Emergency Department and for most people it is the worst part of their day. Sometimes by the nature of the ED environment, it can be more difficult to form strong connections with patients,” he says.

“In Mount Isa I worked with amazing FACEMs (Fellows of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine) like Dr Julia De Boos and Dr Zafar Smith, who showed me the power of taking the time to connect with patients, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. But it was my time on Palm Island where I was really able to put this into action.

“It was really eye opening to see how positively the community and Indigenous staff received me, and how well they responded to an Indigenous doctor; and it all stemmed from the time I took with patients and their families in the ED. It has had the biggest impact on me so far in my career.

“I realised as an Indigenous doctor I was in a unique position to have a powerful influence on my patients in the Emergency Department. Through my interactions, I’m hopeful I can help break down barriers to improve access to health services, encourage positive lifestyle changes and hopefully also show young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids that they, too, can become doctors.”

Conversation about change

Dr Passi has recently been involved in a project headed by Dr Jon Hodge to establish an Indigenous health pathway for junior doctors at Townsville University Hospital. He is also the co-chair of the Transforming EDs Towards Cultural Safety Committee at TUH and is a trainee representative on the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine Indigenous Health Committee.

The former Ryan Catholic College student says he has become more active in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health as a result of his clinical experiences in Mount Isa and on Palm Island. Writing in the Emergency Medicine Australasia journal in 2018, Dr Passi said it was important for Australians to acknowledge the differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the continuing influence of colonisation, dispossession and the Stolen Generation.

“We forget that there were close to 500 Indigenous nations across Australia at the time of colonisation, each with a distinct culture and different belief systems,” he says.

“I try hard to have a conversation with my Indigenous patients and understand who they are and acknowledge where they come from. Our Indigenous patients want to be seen and acknowledged, and want their cultures to be celebrated.”

Born in Mount Isa and raised in Cloncurry and Townsville, Dr Passi graduated from JCU Medicine in the class of 2014. He completed his internship and early residency in Mackay, with multiple rotations to Proserpine Hospital, before moving to Mount Isa as a general practice registrar and transitioning into specialist emergency medicine training.

He returned to Townsville in 2018 to continue his training in emergency medicine along with his wife, Bianca, who is also an ED registrar. The couple has a three-year-old daughter, Eva.

“I continue to be inspired by my motivated colleagues who strive towards closing the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians,” Dr Passi says.

James Cook University is committed to building strong and mutually beneficial partnerships that work towards closing the employment, health and education gap for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Our students come from many backgrounds, promoting a rich cultural and experiential diversity on campus. We acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the Australian lands and waters where where our staff and students live, learn and work. We honour the unique cultural and spiritual relationship to the land, waters and seas of First Australian peoples and their continuing and rich contribution to James Cook University (JCU) and Australian society. We also pay respect to ancestors and Elders past, present and future.