Dr Wendy Page has worked in Aboriginal health for more than 30 years, in communities in North East Arnhem Land. In 2021, she was recognised for her work as the recipient of the Northern Territory Australian of the year.
Dr Wendy Page has worked in Aboriginal health for more than 30 years in communities in North East Arnhem Land. In 2021, she was recognised for her work as the recipient of the Northern Territory Australian of the Year.
Throughout her studies, Dr Page always considered the value of using medicine to help other communities. She spent time overseas, and when she started learning about Aboriginal health, she was challenged to think about the health needs locally.
In 1993, Wendy took up a position at the newly established Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation in Nhulunbuy, where she is now medical director.
‘To me, it was the epitome of Aboriginal health to be able to come to Arnhem Land. It always … held a lot of interest.’
‘I just feel incredibly privileged to have able to live and work here, and the amount that I've learned … you never stop learning. It's ongoing. I don't understand why more people don't put up their hand and say, yes, I want to come out and let's work out there.’
Her long history of working in the Northern Territory has made her very realistic to the challenges of rural medicine, but also the potential for personal growth and learning. Alongside colleagues, Dr Page advocated for the development of the Tropical health orientation manual.
‘It was prompted by the realisation that a lot of people coming from down south weren't familiar with a lot of the conditions that we had up here, from rheumatic heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and Machado Joseph disease. Now in its second edition, health professionals use the manual as a reference in their daily work … tropical health is absolutely fascinating.’
Dr Page has pursued her own journey in researching and raising awareness about strongyloidiasis, which she considers probably the most neglected of neglected tropical diseases. Dr Page also values the opportunity to work as part of a team in a primary care environment, especially the important role of Aboriginal health workers and practitioners.
‘As GPs we're sometimes given situations that we don't plan for, but we adjust to the uncertainty. But we also have a strong advocacy role. We advocate for patients, if they come in, if they're needing something. We're advocating for the patients on their pathway through health.
The team you work with is amazing. The Aboriginal health workers by my side and guiding me, they gave [me] the cultural education that [I] needed, by telling you if you're doing the right thing, you know, stepping in the right way. I say that there are not enough Aboriginal health worker and practitioners by our sides. That that needs to be better resourced.’
Her long career in general practice has seen her through a range of experiences, which has put her in a unique position to offer advice to those considering a career in general practice and rural health, particularly in remote Aboriginal communities.
‘Open your eyes, open your ears, open your heart, and open your head. We're here to learn. I see the patients as our teachers, they hold the stories. If we want to know what's happening, we take a history, that's the first thing we do, but there's so much that [the patient] wants to share. In general practice, you're dealing with the whole person … with the family and … the community.’