Bond University has appointed prominent Aboriginal doctor, Associate Professor Shannon Springer, as its Academic Lead for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, as part of its commitment to providing students with the skills to work effectively in the cross cultural context for the benefit of future patients.
Dr Springer, who has worked across Queensland over the past 10 years, will be responsible for overseeing Bond’s Indigenous health curriculum, developing clinical placement opportunities in Indigenous communities and engaging with the Gold Coasts’ Indigenous community. Bond is committed to actively recruiting and graduating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students, with only about 200 Indigenous doctors – and a similar number of medical students – currently in Australia.
Bond Health Sciences and Medicine Executive Dean, Professor Helen Chenery, said Dr Springer was well-respected for his on-going commitment to improving the health of Indigenous Australians. “Having a practitioner of the calibre of Dr Springer on board will ensure our medical students have a solid understanding and appreciation of Indigenous health issues,” she said. “Dr Springer has worked extensively in this area on the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Mackay, Palm Island and Mount Isa as both a general practitioner and in health consultancy.” “He has also sat on various boards including the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the peak body representing Indigenous Doctors, and is an active member of various grass roots organisations dedicated to closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. “While there are emerging signs of improvement, there remains a 10 year shorter life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders compared to non-Indigenous people, so a conscious and collective effort across many sectors, including education, is extremely important.”
Dr Springer, of Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Island descent, was born and raised in Mackay in North Queensland and was originally lured to Brisbane on a football scholarship with the Broncos in 1997. At the same time, he enrolled in a Bachelor of Applied Health Science in Indigenous Primary Health Care. “While playing football, I was studying and started to learn a lot of history of my own people. It explained a lot of things to me in terms of my own identity and really instilled in me an interest in righting social injustices affecting health outcomes for my people and other marginalised cultures around the world,” said Dr Springer. “I became really passionate about it, so much so that it overtook my aspirations to continue with football and, given my level of passion for football, that’s a big deal! “At the same time, I had a lot of injuries and realised early that I wasn’t going to make it as a professional athlete, so I decided to concentrate on my studies.”
After graduating from his first degree, Dr Springer moved to Townsville to continue his studies in medicine and became one of the first two Indigenous doctors to graduate in 2005 from James Cook University. He completed his internship at the Gold Coast Hospital and worked at the Royal Brisbane Women’s and Children’s Hospital, before moving into general practice when he was lured back home to Mackay to work at the Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander Health Centre, where he has spent the past six years serving his community. “There has been a shift in the medical problems affecting Indigenous families over time, from infectious diseases to more chronic health care issues, such as cardiovascular, renal disease and cancers,” he said. “The lingering effects of past policies, which resulted in losses of land, language, culture and an erosion of identity and autonomy, continue to affect many of my patients’ social and emotional health and wellbeing, along with having a bearing on their choices in life. “My work at Bond will enable me to develop and contribute to a culturally competent workforce and bring about enhanced skills to students wanting to deliver better health outcomes for their future Indigenous patients. “Providing skills to work effectively in the cross cultural space ultimately produces better doctors and enriches the profession of medicine and health care. “Since coming to Bond, I’ve felt really supported by the leadership and believe we will be able to make a real difference through my work with the university.”
Photo: Dr Shannon Springer