Honour for Noongar medical pioneer
A Menang Noongar woman from Mt Barker has become the first indigenous Australian to be appointed dean of a university medical school.
Dr Sandra Eades has been described by Curtin University vice-chancellor Professor Deborah Terry as one of the most influential people in improving the health of Aboriginal communities across the country.
Dr Eades’ passion for health and quiet tenacity led her to become a leading public health academic and Curtin University medical school’s new dean.
The 52-year-old says she never anticipated her achievements but always knew she wanted to be a doctor.
“I remember standing in front of my class in primary school in Mt Barker and saying that I’d like to do medicine,” she said.
Dr Eades was one of seven children, raised by her mother, a teacher in Mt Barker.
“We were raised with a very good sense of work ethic,” she said.
“Even in those early days in Mt Barker, we were always encouraged to take every opportunity that came our way.
“That’s the message that I got from my mother — she would always be enthusiastic if we did well at school. And in her own quiet way, she had an incredibly strong work ethic.”
Dr Eades, now a mother herself, moved to the Perth suburb of Balga when she was in high school.
At 17, she left home and moved across the country to study medicine at the University of Newcastle.
She was the first person in her family to attend university and one of just four indigenous students in the intake.
“When I went to university ... the expectation was we would leave our culture at the door,” she said.
“That is now changing, thanks to the hard work of many people and universities.”
Dr Eades completed her degree five years later as one of the first indigenous graduates from the university’s medical program.
After working as a GP, she started a career in health research at the Telethon Kids Institute and became Australia’s first indigenous medical doctor to be awarded a PhD in 2003.
Three years later, she was named the NSW Woman of the Year, in recognition of her research contributions to Aboriginal communities.
But despite her success, Dr Eades remains incredibly humble.
She attributes her achievements to hard work, perseverance in the face of hardship, and a very supportive family.
“I encountered some setbacks but I think it was a lot of my family’s influence that shaped the attitude that I took with me through life,” Dr Eades said.
“My mother encouraged us to do the best we could and taught us to have a positive outlook on life.”
Dr Eades said she would always feel a strong connection to her family and cultural roots.
“I often go back to visit my cousins in Mt Barker and I spent the summer in Denmark with my son last year,” she said.
The Mt Barker woman said she was delighted to return to WA to start her new role as Curtin’s Dean of Medicine next year.
“The older you get, the more you realise you need to be shaping opportunities for the next generation of healthcare leaders.”
She hoped stories like hers would encourage young indigenous Australians to pursue their passions.
“There are so many other indigenous Australians in different fields of medicine, but also in other areas who have carved out successful careers,” she said.
“Aboriginal youth know who they are and where they want to go, and we need to use these strengths if we are to close the gap.
“I want to encourage them to persevere when there are setbacks, to persevere and to keep going — to just have a go at everything and to really believe in themselves.”
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