The recruitment of more Indigenous doctors and medical professionals is a big challenge facing regional health, students from Australia's rural medical society say.
Representatives from Australia's 28 rural health student societies met this week in Canberra to talk about the future of rural and remote health.
With a focus on the demands ageing, chronic disease and mental health will place on their work in the future, the students agree that both technology and multi-disciplinary teams have huge roles to play in rural health.
For ANU medical student and Kaurna woman Danielle Dries, one of the most significant challenges is the lack of Indigenous medical professionals, about 1800 people short of equal representation in the Australian population.
"We need to be increasing the number of Indigenous students who go into health degrees. That's going to be one of the answers to closing the gap," Ms Dries said.
Part of what's needed is greater cultural sensitivity around Indigenous health. The students point out that while it's compulsory in medicine to have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island curriculum, such a requirement is lacking in nursing and other medical profession courses, she said.
"It's a big thing, because if we're not teaching people to be culturally responsive providing health care in Australia, where there's such inequality between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people, then how are we expected to close the gap?" Ms Dries said.
Having completed stints in both Palm Island and Yuendumu in central Australia, Ms Dries hopes to one day work in the country's most remote communities.
Ms Dries, who first studied physiotherapy, and fellow ANU student Rebecca Irwin, who first studied nursing, say it was these earlier experiences that drew their attention to the importance of including all health workers in the discussion about the future of rural medicine.
"We're not talking about just the doctors, we need to have nurses, podiatrists, psychologists, all of those, to be able to provide quality health care in rural and remote Australia," Ms Irwin, who is also chairwoman of the National Rural Health Student Network, said.
While there were challenges working regionally, some of the advantages were the dedication people had to their work, the opportunities for new professionals to practice clinical skills and the rich social life gained from a small community, Ms Irwin said.
Part of the work of the rural health student network, of 9000 members, was going into communities and high schools and encouraging regional students to take up medical professions and bring the skills back to, if not their own community, then another region, she said.
In April, the conversation on Indigenous participation in the medical professions will continue at the ANU Rural Medical Society's Close the Gap Conference, where both Dr Jackie Huggins, chairwoman of National Congress of Australia's First peoples, and Luke Pearson, who runs the IndigenousX twitter account, and others will speak.