Indigenous medical student Danielle Dries is playing a leading role in the 9,000-strong National Rural Health Student Network.

As the network’s Indigenous Health Officer, this proud Kaurna woman from South Australia advocates for positive change to the health system.

“We need to increase the number of Indigenous students who go into health degrees because that’s one of the answers to closing the gap,” she says.

“As a network, we celebrate the fact that there are more than 200 Indigenous doctors and 1,745 Indigenous nurses already in the health workforce, providing leadership and positive role models for the next generation.

“Not only does it help and inspire Aboriginal students like myself, but it also benefits non-Indigenous students and training registrars to learn about culturally appropriate care and see the world from another perspective.

“We still have a long way to go, if you take population parity as a measure of success. With Indigenous Australians constituting 3% of the population, an additional 2,000-plus Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors would be needed to reflect that proportion of the medical workforce.

“I strongly believe that’s worth striving for. I’ve seen my grandmother and my uncles live with long-term chronic diseases. Unfortunately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a higher prevalence of chronic disease. Regardless of where you live, chronic diseases are preventable so we need the right people with the right skills in the right places to treat and prevent it.”

Danielle, a final year medical student at ANU, attended a function at Parliament House earlier this month to mark the 21st birthday of the National Rural Health Student Network.

While there she met Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, who encouraged her to pursue her career goal of working in remote Australia.

“It’s great to know that there are Aboriginal leaders like Ken supporting young people like myself in our professional journeys,” Danielle says.

Back on campus, Danielle is helping to organise her Rural Health Club’s annual Close the Gap conference at ANU on April 9. More than 140 students are expected to attend this event which has a strong focus on positive futures.

Speakers include Dr Jackie Huggins, chairwoman of National Congress of Australia’s First peoples, and Luke Pearson, who runs the IndigenousX twitter account. There will also be a session devoted to gay, lesbian and transgender health issues.