Future Focus: Aili Cato

Aili Cato, a final-year medical student at Macquarie University, has recently concluded her elective in Palm Island (Bwgcolman).

Delving into a deep understanding of the local community and acknowledging the profound impact of historical factors on their current health status, Aili actively encountered the challenges confronted by the island's sole healthcare facility.


I was privileged to have the opportunity to undertake a four-week elective at Palm Island (Bwgcolman) in Queensland, a remote community, located 65km from Townsville, with a population of approximately 2,000 residents predominantly identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. This elective highlighted the substantial disparities in healthcare access compared to metropolitan areas and brought attention to the enduring impact of the Australian government's historical oppression of Aboriginal people on their overall health outcomes.

Limited resources

During my elective, I dedicated time to both the general practice and Joyce Palmer Hospital, which stands as the sole healthcare facility on the island. The unique context of providing healthcare services in this remote area presented numerous challenges. For example, radiology facilities on the island were constrained to an X-ray machine capable of capturing only chest and limb X-rays, with all other imaging requests involving patients to be transported to Townsville hospital. This created a challenging environment requiring early patient triaging and coordination with helicopter, plane, or ferry staff for timely and necessary patient transportation.

Learning from the local community

My motivation for undertaking this elective was to have a better understanding of the healthcare differences in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and the unique challenges of being in a remote community. I also wanted to learn from the community to become a more culturally sensitive healthcare professional. Additionally, I aimed to acquire techniques for establishing improved rapport with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals. I had the privilege of engaging in meaningful conversations with the Elders of the community, where they shared stories of their lives, especially during the period when they lived under the rule of the Queensland government in the 1950s. By having a greater understanding of their life story, I was able to develop a better appreciation for their lived experience which allowed insight into why some people of the island today can be cautious when engaging with Queensland Health.

Local presentations

During my elective, I actively participated in the care of diverse medical presentations, including tropical diseases, chronic health conditions, antenatal care, and paediatric presentations. Furthermore, I gained comprehensive insight into the management of acute rheumatic fever, and acute rheumatic heart disease, particularly as these presentations were far more common on Palm Island than they would be in a metropolitan hospital.


I take from this experience a greater appreciation of the structural and cultural barriers that hinder people from accessing and actively engaging with healthcare services. It has also equipped me with valuable insights into the management of chronic health conditions and illuminated the distinctive healthcare challenges inherent in a remote setting. Outside of the healthcare setting, I spent my time exploring the numerous hiking trails around Palm Island and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. It was incredible being immersed in the beautiful Bwgcolman country and I am hopeful I can return in the future.

 It is due to the support from the BOQ Future Focus grant that I was able to have this incredible experience and I am extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity. It has been an insightful elective and has already had such an impact on what I hope to pursue in my career.

Developed exclusively for medical and dental students, each year the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grants provide students with the opportunity to undertake an elective so that their commitment to helping others can be realised. Applications for our FutureFocus grant will open in May 2024. 

You can also access funds to help undertake an overseas placement, with our Student Banking Package.


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