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District plays supporting role as medical student receives top accolade

Former Indigenous Trainee honoured

November 2019

District plays supporting role as medical student receives top accolade

District plays supporting role as medical student receives top accolade

Sydney Local Health District is proud to have played a supporting role in medical student Yarlalu Thomas’ success.

The 21 year old Nyangumarta Pitjikarli man has been named Western Australia’s 2020 Young Australian of the Year.

Yarlalu was a recipient of The Indigenous Respiratory Science Traineeship at Concord Hospital.

He was employed as a trainee scientific officer at the Sleep Disorder and Respiratory Function Laboratory during 2017 and 2018 while he was studying at the University of Sydney.

“If we played a little part in helping him along the way, then that’s wonderful. I’m very happy for him. And, proud. It’s not a surprise that he has received this honour as he is a truly exceptional young man. He is doing amazing research,” Professor Matthew Peters, the Head of the Thoracic Medicine Department at Concord Hospital, said.

Now, Yarlalu is working at the Register of Developmental Anomalies, Genetic Services in Western Australia and Cliniface, and aims to transform genetic health care services for remote Indigenous people.

He also works on a program called Pilbara Faces which uses 3D facial imaging technology to provide more accessible, quicker and non-invasive diagnosis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with rare and genetic diseases.

Originally from Warralong, a remote community 120 kilometres southeast of Port Hedland, Yarlalu was the first in his community to graduate from high school. He was the first member of his family to go to University.

He enrolled in a Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine at the University of Sydney and was subsequently awarded the inaugural Roy Hill Community Foundation Fellowship.

The District is now keen to recruit its next Indigenous Respiratory Science Trainee.

“It’s a practical way we can support young Indigenous people who are studying in the field of medical science. The trainees are mentored by senior scientists in our laboratory. They learn new skills and gain confidence in interacting with patients in a clinical setting,” Professor Peters said.

The traineeship is open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enrolled in a science or human measurement degree and who have completed a year of tertiary study.

It was set up in 2014 in honour of Victorian respiratory physician Professor Robert Pierce who was greatly respected for his work in Indigenous lung health.

Professor Pierce died in the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

The first recipient of the traineeship, Luke Micallef, graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Sydney in 2017. He has since gone on to study a Masters of Education and to pursue a teaching career.

Yarlalu will join recipients from the other states and territories for the National Australian of the Year awards ceremony in Canberra on 25 January 2020.

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