Nicky Betts, University of Western Sydney
As future doctors of Australia, and the world, our healthcare responsibilities are to not only the current citizens of Australia but also to refugees and asylum seekers attempting to find refuge in our nation. The mental health of these populations is fraught with a myriad of afflictions. Post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and and a variety of anxiety disorders are all highly prevalent. I know for me personally, I did nothing to earn the extraordinary blessing of birth in Australia, and nor did these people the misfortune of war-torn Afghanistan, or Syria, or Iraq. Of course, we can’t control where we were born. However, what we can control is the way that we treat our fellow man.
Data on over 80,000 refugees underwent meta-analysis and systematic review in 2009  and the prevalence of major depressive disorder and PTSD were found to each be 31%. In the general Australian population, rates are 4.1% and 6.4% respectively.  This is an enormous discrepancy, and as such this group needs at least equal mental health services than the general population rather than the vastly inadequate variety provided to those in immigration detention centres; both in Australia and offshore at places like Nauru and Manus Island. Furthermore, this meta-analysis found that residency status was one of the strongest indicators for depression. In other words, failure to attain Australian permanent residency was unsurprisingly correlated with depression.
Medical students are in a unique position to advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers from a mental health perspective. We are a key stakeholder here, as the future health professionals who will be directly dealing with the long-term impacts of Australia’s currently punitive policies. Now, it’s all well and good to have a moral and ethical objection to the nature of our treatment of a persecuted sector of the global community. But an individual quibble is unlikely to achieve anything meaningful – this is where advocacy comes in. Advocacy allows a group or organisation to present a unified front and magnified message on an issue to create change. Within AMSA, when a potential target for advocacy is identified, policy is carefully written and then used as a platform from which to engage in advocacy. AMSA’s policy on refugee and asylum seeker health was reviewed in 2013 and can be found here. 
AFRAM stands for AMSA For Refugee and Asylum seeker Mental health. It is a nationally coordinated campaign with end goals of ceasing mandatory detention and offshore processing, reinstatement of an independent advisory body on refugee and asylum seeker health and promoting discourse on these affairs within the major Australian political parties. There are three tiers to the AFRAM strategy:
- Letters to MPs
- Calls to MPs
- Meetings with MPs
The reason that AFRAM is so clearly targeted at members of parliament, both state and federal, is that these are the people that determine policy, and this particular issue is one that is deep-rooted in policy.  We know that one of the major factors contributing to health outcomes is one’s political situation.
Politicians, of course, are answerable to their constituents and the chief determinant of their policy is what they gauge to be the overall consensus of the votes they represent, aligned with the values espoused by their party. But not all voices are equally represented, so we really need to clamour to guarantee that we are heard. Especially when we consider that asylum seekers do not vote in Australian elections and thus politicians are not accountable to them. To this end, AFRAM is utilising individual medical students to achieve our goals. The letters sent to MPs will be countersigned on behalf of all the medical students from their electorate who have signed up for AFRAM and meetings with MPs will be conducted in pairs by students with their local MP. For this approach to be successful, extensive medical student engagement is required. Which is why we need you (you’re looking lovely today, by the way) to sign up to AFRAM. As a friend recently said to me: “You have one very short life to make an impact on this world and opportunities to do so are few and far between!”
For more information, or to sign up, check out http://afram.amsa.org.au/
- Steel Z, Chey T, Silove D et al. Association of Torture and Other Potentially Traumatic Events With Mental Health Outcomes Among Populations Exposed to Mass Conflict and Displacement: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.JAMA. 2009;302(5):537-549.
- Tiller, JWG. Depression and anxiety. MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 4: 28-31.
The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) is today calling for more explicit guidelines for anatomy teaching across Australia’s medical schools, with a survey of medical students finding a large disparity in teaching across the nation.
AMSA President, Ms Jessica Dean, today said that a decline in the quality and consistency of anatomy teaching throughout Australia has the potential to leave junior doctors ill-equipped to serve the profession.
“Anatomy is one of the pillars of medicine. Thorough understanding of the roadmap of the body is required to complete task from a simple examination through to complex surgery,” Ms Dean said.
A survey of 610 medical students found that fewer than 40 per cent felt their anatomical knowledge sufficient to practise as junior doctors, and 73 per cent perceived the numbers of anatomy hours to be too few.
“There is a large proportion of the medical student body that feels that their training is not preparing them correctly.
“Students are eager to learn. It is known that some students complete extracurricular anatomy courses outside of their normal medical degree.
“There should be sufficient and consistent anatomy teaching across the board. Students should not feel compelled to undertake additional classes,” Ms Dean said.
The survey found that schools were providing anywhere from 56 to 506 hours of anatomy training throughout the length of the degree.
“The discrepancy is staggering. There needs to be a consistent standard between schools to ensure the best outcome for the students, the profession, and the community.
AMSA is calling on the Australian Medical Council, with support of Medical Deans Australia & New Zealand, to develop clear guidelines on the requirement of anatomy teaching in Australian medical schools.
“Only with clear guidelines can Australia be guaranteed that every single medical graduate is competent and can serve the community to the best of their abilities.”
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals represent an important subgroup of both the general population and in the medical student body. At AMSA’s First Council meeting of 2014, a policy on LGBTIQ health was passed. Following on from the passing of this policy, AMSA is trialling the new role of LGBTIQ Health Officer for one year, with the future of this role to be re-evaluated at the conclusion of this year. The new position of LGBTIQ Health Officer aims to improve education about LGBTIQ health in medical training, as well as visibility and representation of LGBTIQ medical students.
AMSA is looking for a passionate individual with strong advocacy skills to help promote LGBTIQ health and wellbeing. We are looking for individuals with experience and propensity towards this specific policy area who can both represent and advocate for LGBTIQ health and students. The LGBTIQ Health Officer will work together with the Community and Wellbeing Officer on a range of tasks to improve LGBTIQ visibility, advocacy and education.
The role will involve:
Writing and coordinating the LGBTIQ module for the Sexual Health Short Course as part of AMSA Academy
Consult with national LGBTIQ health organisations to develop accessible and relevant resources on LGBTIQ health for medical students
Working with LGBTIQ health clubs and medical student representatives as a central point of contact
Ensuring LGBTIQ medical students are represented within AMSA
Required skills and attributes:
Capacity to educate on LGBTIQ health for the online module
Passionate advocacy skills for LGBTIQ communities
Initiative and flexibility to build up this role in its first year
As this is a new role, we are seeking applicants with initiative and knowledge in this area.
To apply, please prepare:
A one page cover letter, highlighting:
Motivation for the role
You ideas and plans for this role
A one page CV
Please send this to Karen Freilich (email@example.com) by 16th April, 2014.
If you have any questions please feel free to email or call:
Community & Wellbeing Officer
This Saturday, 5th April, AMSA will be launching AMSA For Refugee and Asylum seeker Mental health (AFRAM), a campaign to bring the focus of Australia’s refugee policies back onto health.
60-80 per cent of asylum seekers in Australian detention centres suffer some form of mental illness. The rate of self-harming behaviour in children in detention is up to 12 times that of children in the general community. The rate of suicide in asylum seekers in detention is 10 times that of the general community.
These statistics are horrifying. Refugees are an already victimised and vulnerable group. Systematic oppression, torture and trauma are commonplace experiences prior to migration and AMSA believes that amplifying mental trauma through mandatory detention and offshore processing is reprehensible.
In response, AMSA and AFRAM will call for an end to the politicking of people’s health and for Parliamentarians to consider this issue from a health perspective.
In response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report, the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) recently published a media release calling on the Federal Government, health professionals, and the health sector to take stronger action on climate change.
AMSA President, Ms Jessica Dean, said today that the IPCC report clearly
illustrates the health impacts of climate change are severe and far reaching.
“Climate change is affecting the health of Australians, and these impacts will only
increase into the future” said Ms Dean.
“As future doctors, we are concerned for the health of our local and global
communities. Climate change threatens the health of people across the globe,
“Acting on climate change will improve the health of Australians in a wide range of
areas. Active transport options will help reduce obesity, diabetes and heart
disease. Reducing the burning of fossil fuels will result in cleaner air.”
AMSA calls on the Federal Government to put health at the forefront of all
national and international policy decisions relating to climate change and the
environment. The recommendations of the IPCC report must be taken seriously to
avoid catastrophic climate change.
The Global Climate and Health Alliance have released their report looking at climate change and health. Please find the report, a great video and some infographics here: http://www.climateandhealthalliance.org/ipcc
Applications are now open for AMSA’s newest event, GlobalEx! GlobalEx is an intensive 3-day seminar on global health leadership held from July 25th to 27th 2014 in Melbourne. 50 of Australia’s most active, innovative and committed medical student leaders with a passion for global health issues will gather to build their leadership capacity. With a focus on small-group interactive workshops and inventive forums, GlobalEx will build skills and connections to extend the capacity of medical students to excel and lead action on health at a local and international level.
We’re excited to host an event full of exchanging ideas, exciting conversation, and most importantly, extraordinary delegates.
If you’re interested in attending GlobalEx get ready – applications are open. For more information, check out this application flyer, otherwise head to the website (http://globalex.amsa.org.au/) to apply! Applications close Saturday April 12th, 9pm AEST.
The Australian Medical Student’s Association (AMSA) is calling for a swift resolution to the hospital contract dispute in Queensland.
AMSA President, Ms Jessica Dean, said today that the disruption caused by the contract dispute would be detrimental to medical student training.
“Currently, there is a very real possibility that highly-qualified and dedicated senior doctors will resign en mass compromising medical student training,” Ms Dean said.
“Already we have seen senior officials resign over the dispute.
“Medical training is dependent on senior doctors sharing their knowledge and passing on their skills to junior doctors and medical students.
“Losing our senior doctors will jeopardise the training of the next generation of doctors in Australia.
“We need a solution, and we need it quickly before it adversely affects the future of health care in Australia.”
Ms Dean said the health care system depended on a stable workforce well-placed to provide quality health care and to teach the next generation of practitioners and the contract dispute was causing severe disruption.
“AMSA is urging all parties involved to ensure that a timely resolution is reached,” Ms Dean said.
“Medical students will continue to be left in the lurch over the future of their training until a solution is found.
“The dispute could result in an entire cohort of future doctors lost to the Queensland health system and the ripple effects to Queensland’s health system will be seen for years to come if the contract dispute is not resolved soon.”
The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) is calling on the Federal Government and Universities to act on the epidemic of alcohol misuse that is gripping Australia.
The AMSA National Council met in Melbourne over the weekend and passed policy calling for the Federal Government to address the significant social, economic, and health consequences of alcohol related harm in the community.
AMSA president, Ms Jessica Dean, said today that Australia’s youth are in desperate need for a solution to the alcohol misuse epidemic.
“Alcohol misuse is rife within the community and continues to cause harm among Australia’s youth”, Ms Dean said.
“Alcohol-related violence, crime and injury is not acceptable and we are calling on the Government to act now.
“Each year alcohol consumption is responsible for over 11,000 hospitalisations of young people across Australia. AMSA believes this figure is far too high.”
AMSA is calling on Australian Universities to adequately educate students on the problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol.
“The drinking culture in Australian University campuses must not be allowed to continue,” Ms Dean said.
“Universities have a great opportunity to influence the decisions of youngAustralians. We are calling for them to ensure the safety and health of students is safeguarded, now and into the future.
“Change can only be achieved through a community-wide approach. Strong leadership from governments and education providers is required to create change.
“Australia cannot afford to continue losing our youth to needless acts of alcohol-
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AMSA has opened applications for a bunch of wonderful opportunities! Firstly, applications for the IFMSA General Assembly in Taiwan, August have opened. Secondly AMSA’s newest initiative, AMSA Academy, has just launched and the team is looking for creative and inspired individuals to contribute to the Sexual Health Online Course.
The IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) represents over 1.2 million medical students worldwide, and is the world’s largest student-run organisation. The IFMSA unites medical students worldwide to lead initiatives that positively impact the communities which we will one day serve.
AMSA is looking for students to form part of the delegation (both general delegates and in leadership positions), as well as an IFMSA Liaison Officer. For more information on applying for the conference, please click here. For more info on the Liaison position, please click here. For further questions about the IFMSA not covered in the above documents, check out “Understanding the IFMSA.” Due date for all positions is April 4th, 2014.
AMSA Academy Sexual Health Short Course Module Convener
AMSA Academy is a new initiative of AMSA. Launching in 2014, this exciting project will provide medical students with the opportunity to extend their learning through an online, short course format. A sexual health short course will be made available to medical students across Australia in 2nd semester 2014. AMSA is looking for individuals interested in sexual health education. For more information, please click here. Due date is March 28th, 2014.
Naveen Tenneti, Chair, AMSA Global Health
Two weeks ago, upwards of 800 people met in the Diar Lemdina Conference Centre in Hammamet, Tunisia for a week of debates, discussion and cultural exchange. Over 100 countries were represented and important policies were proposed and passed. These included two policies proposed by the Australian delegation on improving the access to safe abortion worldwide and a statement on conscientious objection. In order to pass these culturally and in some cases, legally contentious policies, representatives of the Australian delegation presented at each of the regional meetings (ie Asia Pacific, Eastern Mediterranean etc) and took great pains to have personal conversations with representatives from nations with strict laws in relation to these areas.
The eventual passing of these policies by the plenary was met with thunderous applause.
No this isn’t the United Nations, welcome to the General Assembly of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA)
The IFMSA is the world’s oldest and largest independent organization representing medical students, with 117 members in over 100 countries. Twice a year the IFMSA meets (March and August) to discuss, deliberate and make important decisions on the future strategic direction of the organization. Decisions are made in the formal plenary where delegation leaders sit behind their nation’s flags and represent the interests and views of their national member organization (NMO). The rest of the delegation is split between the IFMSA’s 6 standing committees, which include reproductive health including HIV/AIDS, public health, professional exchange, research exchange, human rights and peace, and medical education. These standing committees run parallel sessions and make important decisions on their specific portfolios.
At this March meeting, a 16 strong delegation of Australian medical students represented the interests of AMSA. A number of important contributions were made by members of the Australian delegation, these included
- Connor Rochford, Edward Cliff and Visopiano Sanyu (Organisers of AMSA’s newest event on global health leadership, GlobalEx) ran a workshop on Advocacy and Campaigning prior to the General Assembly which was met with very positive reviews
- Lahiruni De Silva and Merredith Cully proposed a policy statement on access to safe abortion. In an excellent example of diplomacy, the entire Australian delegation took the time to consult with NMO representatives from all regions and hear their concerns. This was much appreciated by many members of the plenary and resulted in the member from Kuwait reading out a statement thanking us for our cultural sensitivity and professionalism.
- Daniel Akrawi proposed a policy statement on conscientious objection. This policy respects the right of a doctor to object to certain procedures (i.e. abortion) but requires that if such an objection is held, that they provide an effective referral to another health practitioner.
- Skye Kinder and Jade Lim as our National Exchange Officers signed over 70 exchange contracts, thus expanding the ability of AMSA to facilitate mutual exchanges worldwide.
Work aside, one of the most inspiring aspects of any IFMSA General Assembly is the ability to meet like-minded medical students from throughout the world. It is a rare opportunity to be in one venue with over 100 countries represented and countless more specific ethnicities and cultures. The friendships made and the lessons learnt are ones that will stay with me for a long time. I cannot emphasise more how much I would encourage all of you, if given the opportunity, to attend a General Assembly of the IFMSA. Applications to attend the August meeting in Taiwan will come out shortly, please consider applying!
It was a great pleasure to, along with Global Health Officer Tim Martin and AMSA President Jessica Dean to represent AMSA-Australia in the plenary sessions. If you would like any further information about the IFMSA or would like to get in touch, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.