Navy doctor recognised for work with Indigenous communities

Published on LEUT Tanalee Smith (author)

Topic(s): Honours, Awards and Trophies, Leadership, Diversity and Inclusivity

Lieutenant Justin Hunter was awarded Growing Strong Award for Indigenous registrar of the year. (photo: )
Lieutenant Justin Hunter was awarded Growing Strong Award for Indigenous registrar of the year.

Lieutenant Justin Hunter always knew he wanted to give back to his community, and he found a path to do so when he joined the Australian Defence Force and began training in health care.

His professional trajectory took him from Army medic to registered nurse to physician assistant to general practitioner (GP) and one of the Navy’s first Aboriginal doctors.

His work with Indigenous communities has recently been recognised by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who presented Lieutenant Hunter with the Growing Strong Award for Indigenous registrar of the year.

The award - which recognises GPs who go above and beyond to care for their patients and communities - was presented in a digital conference with thousands of people across Australia tuned in.

“I am quite humbled to have been recognised with this award, and I hope that other young people will see a similar rewarding career path.

“We need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors in all aspects in medicine, and definitely within the Navy and wider Defence,” Lieutenant Hunter said.

A Wiradjuri man who grew up on Gumbaynggirr country in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Lieutenant Hunter joined the Australian Army as a Rifleman in 1991 and soon became a patrol medic.

He studied nursing and worked as a registered nurse, mainly in emergency nursing.

“In 2008 I deployed to Iraq, where I worked closely with medical professionals from various nations and experienced first-hand how my skills could save lives in a war zone,” he said.

He returned home wanting to do even more, and decided to train to be a physician assistant through a Navy-supported program. He followed this up by earning a medical degree and is currently working at Tharawal Aboriginal Medical Services in Airds, New South Wales.

“I knew I wanted to be a healer, to help people from all walks of life, and with Navy, from all parts of the world,” he said.

Lieutenant Hunter has been studying and training and will return to full-time Navy work in February when he posts to HMAS Penguin’s Health Centre and Submarine and Underwater Medicine Unit.

His next goal, he says, is to help increase the number of Indigenous doctors in the Defence Force through mentorship and other support.

“It is important that our communities and our youth see the options that are available to them, to perhaps see someone like myself who has been able to become a Medical Officer through mentoring and study and maybe see themselves in my shoes.

“I'd like to help with that, mentoring sailors and young officers to achieve their dreams,” he said.

Lieutenant Hunter said he was helped by friendships and mentoring from others in and out of the Australian Defence Force.

“I want to emphasise a special thank you to Navy and the wider Defence community, including Army.

“I know everyone says it, but it really is true: I wouldn’t be here today if not for a lot of my mentors and people who helped me out along the way in both services,” he said.