Dr Ngiare: Medicine Woman

Story: Dr Ngiare

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to meet Dr Ngiare Brown, you sure won’t forget about her in a hurry. Funny, vivacious, down-to-earth and compassionate, Ngiare’s a dynamic young woman who takes her work in Aboriginal health and education very seriously indeed. Yet she still has time for a joke and a wink.

Ngiare currently divides her time between working in preventive health and education for World Vision Australia, and being an ambassador for the Department of Education, Training & Youth Affairs’ (DETYA) National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy.

Her job with World Vision Australia means that she gets to spend a lot of time with Aboriginal communities in rural and remote parts of the country, like Papunya in central Australia. Here she offers information, advice and guidance on everything from ‘what to feed your baby’ to ‘how to monitor blood sugar levels’.

“For many rural and remote communities, their local health service is really stretched to provide appropriate health care,” says Ngiare. “All they can do is provide acute care and management of chronic disease. When it comes to things like having a healthy pregnancy, looking after your kid’s ears, eating the right sort of foods, there just aren’t the resources to offer those kinds of preventive programs. Which is where World Vision Australia comes in.”

World Vision Australia has been involved with health promotions in Indigenous communities since 1996. And Ngiare stresses that they always works in partnership with existing health services in the area. “We’re not there to show them up – they’re just flat chat dealing with emergencies.”

For Ngiare, the job is a rewarding one, both professionally and personally. “It’s a great opportunity for me to increase my skills in public health, and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn more about my culture and heritage, too. They take me hunting, they teach me language, I get to play with their kids and be part of an ancient culture while helping them shape their own future.”

As a Literacy and Numeracy Ambassador, Dr Ngiare also gets to spend lots of quality time with the young ones. “Education is vitally important for the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If they have these tools, they can make better decisions for their own future. It opens so many doors.”

Ngiare takes her message to schools and special events like the Croc Festival, telling young Aboriginal people to identify their goals in life and then work towards achieving them. “I think that if the kids see Aboriginal people from their own communities succeeding in their chosen paths, then it’s more tangible for them. There is just so much potential out there and I want them all to do as well as they possibly can.”

Ngiare is a perfect role model. Brought up in Shellharbour on New South Wales’ south coast, she was one of the first to be accepted into a recruitment program for Indigenous people at Newcastle University’s School of Medicine. Graduating in 1992, she specialised in emergency medicine before moving into public health and policy in Aboriginal communities.

“I’m happy to be doing what I always wanted to do, which is medicine,” says Ngiare. “I was given a great opportunity and I knew I had to make the most of it.”

Now she’s motivating the next generation of Aboriginal leaders to do likewise. But there’s another reason why Ngiare loves being a Literacy and Numeracy ambassador. “It lets me carry on like a kid as well!”


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