Six Aboriginal women – including three sisters – graduated with postgraduate qualifications in public health from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) this week.

The women continued to work full-time at the Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney (AMSWS) based in Mount Druitt, while they earned their qualifications. The area is home to Australia’s largest Aboriginal population.

UNSW Medicine’s Muru Marri focus is around health and wellbeing over the life span. It provided extra support through mentoring and tutoring for the AMSWS cohort. It is expected that a new group of students, from other Aboriginal health services, will start soon.

Sisters Dea Delaney-Thiele and Sheila Hure both graduated with Masters of Public Health, while their older sibling Joanne Delaney and colleagues Aunty Elaine Lomas, Jennifer King and Sethy Willie received Graduate Certificates in Public Health.

Most are the first in their families to gain a university degree. One of them, Dea Delaney-Thiele, has already started her Doctorate in Public Health at UNSW, among the inaugural intake into the highly competitive Future Health Leaders program. Her research will focus on culturally appropriate research protocols, using a grassroots perspective.

“This has been a completely awesome experience, especially to be up there on stage with my two sisters. It was fantastic,” says Dea Delaney-Thiele.

Three years ago, Ms Delaney-Thiele returned to her community of Mount Druitt, after working in Canberra for the peak body the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation for 10 years, with eight of them as CEO.

“There is a lot of focus on the health of Indigenous people in rural and regional areas, but even in the city there are major problems of access,” says Ms Delaney-Thiele. “Often people don’t want to go to hospital or seek other health services because of worries about racism. That was the case with my mother – and plenty of others that I know of.”

Aboriginal academic and UNSW Professor of Public Health, Lisa Jackson Pulver says: “Training Aboriginal people to take the lead in Indigenous health care is essential to capacity building and empowerment.

“Usually the policy makers in Aboriginal affairs are non-Indigenous, but UNSW is quietly growing qualified Indigenous leaders in collaboration with employers and health services,” says Professor Jackson Pulver, who is a Director of Muru Marri.

UNSW has established residential scholarships for Indigenous medical students to support their studies, among other initiatives.

UNSW has the country’s largest number of Indigenous medical students, with 56 students currently enrolled here out of a total of 260 nationwide. Another 10 are engaged in postgraduate degrees with UNSW Medicine.

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media Office| 0422 934 024 |

About Muru Marri: Part of UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine,  Muru Marri aims to contribute to the healing and positive health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through research, teaching, publication, public advocacy and representation on peak national bodies.

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