Magellan Scholar Studies Impact of Australian healthcare system on Aboriginal Populations

Created: January 24, 2017
Last Updated: July 9, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Jan. 24, 2017) – Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) Magellan Project scholars often find the projects they create turn into so much more once they begin, and W&J junior Nick Baker is no exception.

Nick’s project began with a simple idea: travel outside of the United States and study a topic related to medicine. After learning about another Magellan scholar’s research on herbalism in South America, Nick’s idea began to fall into place. Seeking to explore the medical practices of an indigenous culture, Nick set off for Australia to study ancient and modern Aboriginal medicine.

After arriving “down under,” Nick made a visit to the Harry Brookes Allen Museum at the University of Melbourne and soon found his original plans evolving as he delved deeper into his research and expanded his contacts.

“The information I gathered at this museum helped to give a new direction to my project, and it was here that I decided to incorporate a focus on present healthcare in Australia and its impact on Aboriginal populations,” Nick said.

Nick then headed to Sydney to meet with Dr. Lilon Bandler, an associate professor at the University of Sydney.

“From our meeting, I realized that in undertaking this project I had inadvertently unearthed many critical issues affecting medicine and healthcare all over the world,” Nick said. “How does one assess health? What is the responsibility of a healthcare provider to a patient? And how do we effectively treat patients?”

These questions informed much of his project as he explored aboriginal medicine, the current Australian healthcare system, and the increasingly complex intersection between the two.

One of Nick’s last stops included meeting with Romlie Mokak, CEO at the Lowitja Institute, a cooperative center for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research.

In contrast to the western world’s biomedical approach, Nick learned Aboriginal medicine emphasizes a holistic approach, centered on the spirit of a person and the many factors that can contribute to a person’s wellbeing—rather than focusing on ailment alone as is sometimes the case in Western medicine.

“Most Aborigines had knowledge of ‘bush medicine,’ the series of plant-based remedies and concoctions that were used to treat common ailments,” said Nick. “When more serious issues arose, the Ngangkari (pronounced NUN-ka-ree), or Aboriginal healer, was consulted.”

Mokak and Nick further discussed the disadvantages Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders face, especially in terms of healthcare, as a result of centuries of being dispossessed and having their cultural traditions and medicinal practices ignored.

“I also learned about the economic and political measures that are being taken to ensure that Aborigines today can receive care, including the establishment of Community Controlled Health Organizations (CCHO’s) that provide care from the authority of a board of community members rather than the federal government,” he added.

At the end of his trip, Nick, overwhelmed by the knowledge he had gained, was proud to see how one small idea became so much more than he ever imagined.

“I began the project with the objective to research ancient medicinal techniques, [and now] I have unearthed some of the great social and ethical issues of the modern world…I feel I have succeeded in my quest for knowledge and have been taught so much that I will continue to carry with me throughout college, a career in medicine, and the rest of my life,” he said.

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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