Shepparton welcomes graduates of rural health course

Special day: (from back left) Professor Julian Wright, Andreia Marques, Dr Shanawa Andrews, Gwenda Freeman, Helen Everist, Dr Karen Ferguson, professors Marcia Langton, Lisa Bourke, Doug Boyle and John Prins; (front) Dr Raylene Nixon, Chanoa Cooper, Leah Lindrea-Morrison, Tracey Hearn and Dr Sharon Atkinson-Briggs.

Twelve First Nations students graduated from rural health courses under the Department of Rural Health at the University of Melbourne on Thursday, March 31.

Taking in graduates from 2020 and 2021, the event saw seven students graduate from a specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities, one of which also completed a Graduate Certificate in Aboriginal Health in Rural Communities, one graduate from a Master of Public Health and four from the PhD program.

Professor Marcia Langton associate provost is one of the driving forces behind the creation of the courses.

“It’s a dream come true for them and it’s a dream come true for me too,” she said.

“It’s primarily a credit to the students themselves, some of them have really forged a pathway to create an indigenous health workforce that’s highly qualified and as good as any health workforce in the country.”

The Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities is open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have equivalent work experience in their community, regardless of whether they have completed tertiary education.

University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health director Lisa Bourke said the aim of the courses was for students to be able to study, live work and study on Country without having to go to the city.

“We’ve tried to bring the University of Melbourne here and tried to create pathways and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in settings right around Australia, to be able to get access to university,” she said.

Chanoa Cooper completed the specialist certificate after working more than 20 years for Aboriginal controlled organisations and mainstream health services.

She said the course proved to be a helpful entry point into post-graduate studies, giving further accessibility into completing a masters degree down the track.

“It’s really opened my eyes and sorts of helped me to understand my role as an Aboriginal woman and helped me strengthen my skills,” she said.