Zahli Howard cried when she heard she had been awarded an Indigenous scholarship to allow her to continue her studies to become a doctor.
Zahli, who graduated from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Medical and Health Sciences in 2019, is the first in her family to attend university.
Now a first-year student undertaking her Doctor of Medicine at UOW’s Graduate School of Medicine, Zahli said she would not have been able to undertake the medical degree if it were not for the generous support of the Dr Krishna and S Reddy Indigenous Medical Scholarship.
The proud Wiradjuri woman said the scholarship was instrumental in allowing her to take on such an in-depth and intensive degree without financial stress.
“I am in awe and deep appreciation of this scholarship,” Zahli said.
“When I found out I had been awarded this scholarship I was with my mum and we both just sat and cried happy tears.
“The selflessness and generosity I have been shown has reignited a fire in my belly and a drive to succeed.
“Thank you doesn’t do justice for the gratitude I am experiencing. Receiving this scholarship has been a life altering event for me and taken weights off my shoulders that were beginning to take a real toll on me.”
Only about 2.7 per cent of students studying medicine in Australia have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. In a bid to attract more Indigenous doctors, Illawarra surgeon Dr Venkata Krishna Bommareddy, known as Dr Krishna, and his wife Shashi, created the Indigenous Medical Scholarship, which is valued at $50,000 per year, over four years.
Dr Krishna studied medicine in India before migrating to Australia in 1971. In 1981 he began practising as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Wollongong. He retired in 2017 and began working as a casual tutor in UOW’s anatomy department.
Throughout his career, Dr Krishna became increasingly committed to the idea that action was urgently needed to improve Indigenous health, particularly in remote areas.
“People in those communities would feel far more comfortable with Indigenous doctors because they know the local issues and the language,” he said.
Dr Krishna said in his 45 years as a practitioner, he had not come into contact with any Aboriginal doctors, describing it as an issue that contributed to inequitable health care and poorer health outcomes for the Indigenous population.
“My primary objective is to attract more Indigenous doctors with the hope in the longer term they will work as medical doctors in Aboriginal communities,” Dr Krishna said.
The Medical Scholarship and the Graduate School of Medicine Indigenous Scholarship are two UOW programs that are helping to increase the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors by providing financial support to study medicine.
The aim is to provide dedicated pathways that will enable more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to achieve their dreams of becoming doctors and helping to close the gap for health outcomes.
Academic Leader Indigenous Health in the Graduate School of Medicine Associate Professor Maria Mackay said the Indigenous Medical Scholarship was an opportunity to help future Indigenous doctors to achieve their goals without additional financial stress.
“The Graduate School of Medicine is committed to educating Indigenous doctors to work in rural communities with our mob. To help the dream of becoming a doctor for Indigenous medical students to become a reality, these scholarships aim to provide the funds and enable you to focus on your studies,” she said.
“Many Indigenous people do not feel becoming a doctor is possible. The opportunity to receive a scholarship to support them in their studies can make all the difference to becoming a doctor and making a difference for our mob.”
Applications for the two scholarships are now open to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who want to study medicine.
Zahli said receiving the scholarship has inspired her to one day pay it forward and help other students in her position.
“It is the greatest act of generosity I have ever, and undoubtedly will ever, be on the receiving end of,” she said.
“Dr Krishna and his wife have put a sparkle in my eye and inspired me to continue this path of helping others, in the true nature of medicine. Incredible people like this are few and far between but acts like this change the world.”