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Dr Danielle Arabena

Meet GPTQ medical educator, Dr Danielle Arabena

Dr Danielle Arabena (featured image)

When Dr Danielle Arabena finished her degree and became pregnant with her first child, she came to the realisation that she was actually a healer. “I felt quite isolated. Typically, if you are what they call a Nungkari, or traditional healer, you’re taught by your grandfather. But I didn’t have that. My teaching happened in dreams,” she says.

“The work I do heals the energetic body through various means – through touch, through sound. I listen to my intuition a lot.”

Brisbane-based GP and Indigenous health educator

“I am probably a bit more unusual than other medical educators. My family is from the Torres Strait, descended from the Meriam Mer people. Growing up, I had no role models of Indigenous people who were doctors,” says Dr Danielle Arabena, Brisbane-based GP and Indigenous health educator.

“I did pretty well academically in high school, and I was very good at public speaking and English. I liked biology, but I didn’t do any of the hard sciences,” she says. Danielle was encouraged to study an English-related course at university. “I got into communications, majoring in PR, and film and television.”

Becoming a doctor

Danielle tried massage therapy and, wanting to work with pregnant women, she commenced a nursing degree with the aim of becoming a midwife. “I got into nursing and realised in the first couple of weeks that I was always more interested in what the medical students were learning on ward rounds,” she says.

Around that time, she says, spirit started “humbugging” (hassling) her to become a doctor. “I resisted for a long time. I didn’t know anybody who was a doctor. I had two children by then and I broke the news to my husband; I said, ‘I might do medicine’. I basically had a crack at it, got in, got through and became a doctor.”

Building a bridge between healing and traditional medicine

Aside from her work as a GP, Danielle runs a healing clinic. “I haven’t really integrated my medical practice with my healing,” she says. “The healing I do is probably more earth-based or shamanic (balancing the physical, emotional and spiritual). I see myself as the bridge between the worlds, between healing and traditional medicine.”

Danielle describes herself as a vibrational medicine practitioner. “The work I do heals the energetic body through various means – through touch, through sound,” she says. “I listen to my intuition a lot. There are days when I get a tap on the shoulder from spirit, and I turn my attention to what’s happening.” However, Danielle points out that she is foremost a doctor and works within the medical framework. “I vaccinate kids. I’m a doctor, but I sit in that vortex in the middle.”

Embracing a holistic approach

Danielle also likes to run workshops and is currently teaching mindfulness meditation. “There’s evidence for supporting mindfulness meditation. So that’s a nice place for me,” she says. “I’m stepping back into that healer’s role. I talk to my patients all the time about breathing and mindfulness.” Children in particular, says Danielle, are intuitive and respond well to visualisations.

Danielle also holds women’s meditation circles and is undertaking a year-long shamanic midwifery course, which she will use to assist women during periods of transition, such as menopause. “It’s about connecting. I haven’t had formal training, but I’d like to do a vision quest,” she says. But in a perfect world, adds Danielle, she would be running workshops on topics such as sexual health, connecting to yourself, a holistic approach to being a woman, and so on. “We might do meditation,” says Danielle. “Who knows what we might get up to?”

A rewarding GP career built on patient relationships

When it comes to being a GP, Danielle loves the continuity of care and the relationships she builds with her patients. “I love doing the shared care of a woman during her pregnancy and then looking after the baby. You get to watch that baby grow and they run and they jump on you. I love it. The relationships and the connection. That’s what I like.”

Danielle is also part of an Indigenous health team, which liaises and makes connections with Aboriginal Medical Services. “I tutor and mentor Indigenous registrars that are going through GPTQ. I facilitate national workshops for our Indigenous registrars through RACGP. I provide support for registrars who are interested in Indigenous health training, and for my Indigenous registrars as well.”

Encouraging an interest in medicine in remote communities

Though AIDA, the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, Danielle has visited remote and rural Indigenous communities. She has visited schools on Tiwi Island, Kalgoorlie and Palm Island to encourage kids to become doctors. “I use those experiences to talk to registrars,” she says. “On Thursday Island, we drove around in a ute, and I had ‘Bonesy’, my boyfriend, who was a skeleton, sitting in the passenger seat.”

Going into the school, the team organised activities for the kids, asked questions and gave out stethoscopes. “It’s a big thing for remote Indigenous kids,” she says. “We didn’t have that experience.” Danielle also believes storytelling can make an impact. “If I can share a story with a patient around their healing and health, and use that as a tool to engage in a conversation, I think that’s good.”

Danielle says that young Indigenous medical students should join an organisation like AIDA for support and to be around people who understand their journey. “Dr Hayward, the President of AIDA, is also an Indigenous health educator, and she’s been a very good support and mentor for me in this role because it’s so unique,” says Danielle. “We’re looking at how we can support each other. Find good support and a mentor, and keep asking questions.”