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IWD: Dr Karen Nicholls on the journey towards equality


Morgan Liotta


8/03/2023 3:30:41 PM

The RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Chair celebrates women who show leadership in challenging the systems in which they work.

Dr Karen Nicholls
Dr Karen Nicholls, Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, endeavours to empower women through equality and allyship.

For Dr Karen Nicholls, a Torres Strait Islander woman descending from Boigu Island in the Torres Strait, choosing a career in medicine was not always apparent.
 
‘I couldn’t see what I could be, because there were no Torres Strait Islander female doctors [at the time],’ she told newsGP.
 
Today, with a growth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPs expected to continue, Dr Nicholls’ vision has shifted.
 
‘My hope is that, while we make up a small percentage of the Indigenous population overall, that we would continue to exceed society’s expectations,’ she said.
 
‘Torres Strait Islander women definitely go on to do some really fantastic stuff in health. And I do want to acknowledge that there are some absolutely brilliant Torres Strait Islander doctors working at the moment, clinically and in research, and also advocating for better health outcomes and educational outcomes for everyone.’
 
Since receiving her Fellowship with the RACGP in 2010, Dr Nicholls has worked predominantly in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation sector and academia.
 
Late last year she joined the college’s 65th Board when she was elected Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health – a role in which she feels privileged and proud to be a female GP representing this space.
 
‘I have always viewed advocacy as so important and doing something not just for me, but to help benefit others in the future,’ she said.
 
And for International Women’s Day (IWD), that privilege is even more significant.
 
‘International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the successes and challenges that have been experienced by women worldwide, especially considering issues around gender equity and equality,’ Dr Nicholls said.
 
‘I particularly enjoy listening and learning from women at the forefront of their industries and profession who show leadership in challenging the systems in which they work.’
 
Addressing this year’s IWD theme of ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’, Dr Nicholls says the event also raises ‘a whole lot’ of intersectional issues.
 
‘It is an opportunity to discuss and disrupt institutional and systemic structures that continue to contribute to the entrenched gender inequality,’ she said.  
 
‘While I think it’s great that it brings to the forefront issues for women and knowing that these issues are shared across the world, it still highlights how far we have to go to actually obtain equity.’
 
Passionate about health equity and growing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce, Dr Nicholls is currently working in full-time academia at the University of Newcastle where she originally studied medicine. To enable this, she is taking some leave from her clinical role with the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, where she provides specialist trainee support for non-GP Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander doctors working with trainees and non-GP specialist colleges.
 
But the college’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Chair relishes holding on to the valuable role of being a GP.
 
‘I feel very fortunate and privileged to have been able to be involved in the care of patients as a GP, and that’s something that I reflect on quite a lot,’ she said.
 
‘We see people at some of the lowest points in their life and to be able to support them through that is an absolute privilege.’
 
Dr Nicholls will continue to advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and female leadership in the healthcare workforce, which her Chair position empowers her to do.
 
‘The role as Chair is a representative role, it’s not a single voice or a single authority,’ she said.
 
‘It is a privilege to be able to seek advice and viewpoints from many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues who are often doctors, on issues that are important to all of us.
 
‘And being Chair of the Council affords me that privilege, I get to sit down and talk with some absolutely amazing clinicians and educators and pick their brains on shared interests, have respectful passions on things that we might disagree on, but it just leads to my growth and my knowledge.
 
‘I definitely feel very fortunate.’
 
Dr Karen Nicholls is hosting the RACGP’s online forum for National Close the Gap Day on 16 March, from 7.00 pm – 8.00 pm (AEDT). Registration is available on the college website.
 
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female leadership International Women’s Day IWD


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