Working in Aboriginal Health

Working in Aboriginal Health can be extremely rewarding and satisfying for a General Practitioner. Many patients have complex health needs and the care provided by skilled and dedicated GPs can have a very positive impact on individual patients and on their communities. Illness and mortality rates are significantly higher in the Aboriginal population and GPs have a major role in closing this gap.

While most GPs have some Aboriginal patients in their practices (and Aboriginal Health should be “everyone’s business”) there are several ways of working predominantly with Aboriginal people and becoming more specialized in this area.

Aboriginal Health is an area of work which is especially suited to doctors who enjoy –
• practicing within an “holistic care” model
• working within a multi-disciplinary team environment
• managing complex and challenging clinical cases
• using a wide range of clinical skills and expertise
• learning new skill-sets

1. Working in an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) – sometimes called an Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS)
An ACCHS is a primary health care service initiated and operated by the local Aboriginal community to deliver holistic, comprehensive, and culturally appropriate health care to the community which controls it (through a locally elected Board of Management) .

There are currently 21 ACCHSs across Western Australia with each one offering a different geographical and cultural experience. There is a continuum from large multi-GP urban centres to very small remote fly-in-fly-out community clinics. All utilize a team model with Aboriginal Health Workers and nurses playing major roles in the delivery of healthcare services. ACCHSs are well-supported by visiting specialists and allied health workers and almost all are fully accredited to RACGP standards.
Many ACCHs provide placements for medical students and GP registrars and information on these positions can be requested from the education provider or through the individual ACCHSs. The Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA) can provide contact details for all the ACCHS in WA.
Vacancies for both permanent and locum positions can be found through Rural Health West.

2. Working in a WACHS (WA Country Health Service) position
WACHS is an important provider of services for Aboriginal people (who make up 13.2% of the total population in rural and remote Western Australia). There are opportunities for GPs with an interest in Aboriginal Health throughout the state, particularly in the Kimberley and Goldfields.
Positions are generally linked to small hospitals and, in some regions, include outreach to surrounding communities. The work is especially suited to GPs with extensive primary health care knowledge and skills and significant experience in emergency care. The scope of practice for WACHS GPs is very wide and may include obstetrics and anaesthetics.
Current job opportunities can be found on the WACHS website.

3. Working in a private practice with an Aboriginal Health focus
Some private general practices have a particular focus on Aboriginal Health – often where the practice population includes a high proportion of Aboriginal patients and where one of the GPs has had previous experience in ACCHS. Some practices have close links with Aboriginal community organisations in their area and GPs provide clinics with the assistance of Aboriginal health workers.

4. Other agencies
There are a number of additional agencies which provide GP services to Aboriginal people and communities. These include the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and the mobile services in Perth such as the Street Doctors

NOTE – culturally safety training is strongly advised for any GP working with Aboriginal people. There are many sources of cultural training including the RACGP-endorsed face to face program delivered by AHCWA