Why Aboriginal Health: Dr Rohan Carter

Posted on 20th Jun 2019

Closing the gap in Aboriginal Health and empowering patients to truly understand their health are the two burning issues that get Dr Rohan Carter out of bed each morning.

Rohan believes that one of the most effective ways of closing the gap in Aboriginal Health is to ensure patients are educated about their role in their own health care. Closing the gap is a strategy that aims to reduce Indigenous disadvantage with respect to life expectancy, child mortality, access to early childhood education, educational achievement, employment outcomes. “How can we close the gap when we have patients with significant medical issues, who don’t really understand the problem?” Rohan said. “It is not safe to assume that every patient understands what the kidneys do, what the pancreas does and what proteinuria actually signifies,” Rohan said.

Since 2012, Rohan has worked extensively in Western Australia’s Kimberley and Mid West regions and developed sustainable programs for chronic disease management in partnership with Aboriginal communities. Rohan said one of the basic questions that Aboriginal patients must be asked was - do you know what that really means? “For example, I have seen many patients who have seen doctors for years, yet have no real understanding about what diabetes actually is,” he said. “They know it’s something to do with sugars, but no one has taken the time to fully inform them at their level of understanding what their disease is and the importance of managing it.”

In Rohan’s experience, once patients are educated and have a full understanding, they often become willing partners in their own care and strong self-managers, with the support of a multi-disciplinarian team. “If a patient walks out with a better understanding than when he or she walked in, I believe I have done something to close the gap,” he said. “And in many cases, my patients do come back.”

Rohan, who originally hales from Albany in southern WA, discovered his passion for Aboriginal Health after ‘stumbling’ into medicine when he noticed an advert for graduate entry into medicine while working as a nurse. From day one of his acceptance into medicine, Rohan began planning how to become a GP specialising in Aboriginal Health.

Rohan’s advice for any registrars interested in pursuing an Aboriginal Health career was to leave their egos behind because a doctor is equal with every other worker employed at an Aboriginal medical service, and to foster a willingness to learn and understand Aboriginal people. “Aboriginal people don’t want or need sympathy, but they do need people who genuinely care and take the time to listen to them,” Rohan said. “Once you understand the patient, helping to improve their health is much easier.”

Rohan’s tireless work to make a difference in Aboriginal Health was recently recognised by WAGPET when he was awarded the Registrar of the Year Award for 2014, along with Dr Fergus McCabe at GP on Beaufort. “I feel truly honoured and very humbled,” Rohan said. “I was lucky that my first real exposure as a medical student to Aboriginal health I had an excellent mentor in Dr Naomi Brooks, who showed me the importance of chronic disease management, patient education and promotion of patient self-management.”