David Meharg grew up in an environment where going to university was not something to aspire to. Driven to study his Bachelor of Health Science at CSU as a mature age student, David says university was as much about learning about himself as it was learning about the health care system.
Now with two Master degrees to his name, David is currently Manager of Primary and Community Health Services in Orange, NSW, and about to embark on an international university study tour for Aboriginal students.
Here David explains why he is passionate about changing the way health services are delivered to Aboriginal people.
Relatability in a family is important. While attending university I felt I was experiencing a different world and being exposed to different perspectives than others in my family who had not had the opportunity to attend university. At times this experience was very isolating as I didn’t feel I could share my learnings or seek assistance to complete assignment tasks. At the same time it exposed me to academic thinkers and my world and my mind expanded and I felt a connection to learning – I’ve come to realise that for me, learning is an exciting and enjoyable adventure.
In my family a university education was not a goal to aspire to. There was more emphasis on working to earn money, than to develop a career. I was the second person in my family to attend university. Even though I had one role model, it was hard to visualise what attending university would be like and I felt nervous about even applying.
I attended university as a mature age student… I was 23. I always wanted to attend university however I left school in year 12 to start an Aboriginal Administrative Traineeship with the Local Health District, as I had my first child at 17 while completing year 11 and needed to earn an income. I realised that if I wanted to attend university, I had to maintain working full-time and study, while also juggling my family and community responsibilities.
I’m currently… working full-time as the Manager, Orange Primary and Community Health Services. My role is part of the Orange Health Service Executive Team and I manage a workforce of approximately 80 staff who deliver early intervention and prevention initiatives to members of the community to improve the clients’ health and well-being
My childhood was… spent in Wellington and Orange surrounded by extended family. There were always cousins and affectionate uncles and aunties to share their thoughts and life’s lessons. My grandmother and two aunties were nurses, so health care has always been present in my life.
I chose CSU because… it felt safe to me. I was able to stay living in my community of Orange and complete study blocks in Dubbo with other Aboriginal students.
My best experience at CSU was… developing my voice and being able to articulate my thoughts in ways that were convincing and influential. Knowledge is power!
My worst experience at CSU was… about confronting my fears. I had to confront my own self belief that I actually belonged in this space and could complete the work. We all have these voices in our heads that arise from fears and self doubt. Attending CSU was about learning about myself just as much as it was about learning about the health care system, funding streams and our Aboriginal policy landscape.
At university I was inspired… by the language used and the knowledge and dedication the lectures contained. The research the staff were conducting and the classes they delivered was fascinating to me. I was also motivated by the other students in my class who were bright and ambitious and full of life experiences to draw on to better relate theory to practice.
Today I’m motivated to… change the way the health service delivers services to Aboriginal people, particularly within a mainstream organisation. There is significant opportunity for us to improve systems and processes that engage and collaborate with the community.
In my profession it is important to… be guided by current evidence-based practice. Many times in fast-paced environments like health care, managers can be confronted by making decisions on the go, while not always considering best practice.
I never dreamed I… would be selected for the Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour. I will be participating in a group of 19 current and graduated students attending Ivy League universities in the US and the UK for five weeks. I leave late October and am extremely excited about walking the halls of these fine institutes and talking to world renowned academic experts.
The biggest influence in my life… has been the people who along my journey have stopped, saw something in me, showed they believed in me and my ability and supported me. Looking back over my life I can clearly identify those people who helped me develop. I have touched base with them and thanked them for what they did for me. Many did not realise the impact they had made at the time or what their support represented.
I’m most proud of… my academic achievements, which also being able to align academic work with my work in health care. It has been personally rewarding when I have achieved well academically at the same time as my work has improved an Aboriginal program or service for the community we serve.
My greatest achievement… is yet to come. I have received Dean’s awards and been accepted into the Golden Key International Honour Society and graduated with a Masters with distinction, but I am not satisfied. There is something bigger for me, something still to come - I am passionate about completing a PhD.
I am passionate about what I do… because I believe there is value and purpose in the public health sector. I also believe solutions to our Aboriginal health issues lie with Aboriginal people at the grass-roots. It is my role to advocate on my community’s behalf and ensure as a health service we are responsive to community needs. I want to play an active role improving the patient experience and that requires health care services to be even more collaborative and for health care leaders to work with community leaders.
In the future… I’d like to lead the strategic direction for Aboriginal health care services and become an academic to shape the minds and thinking of the next generation.
The best piece of advice I ever received was… from my mum who told me, “There are always going to be people who you do not get along with at work, you just have to accept this and move on”.
The single-most important issue in the world is… sustainable health care. As a society we need to be focused on delivering health care at the right place at the right time at the right cost. Health expenditure is only expected to increase in the future. If we want to have a healthy population that is productive we need to invest wisely. After all, health is wealth.
The thing I wish I had done but never got around to… has been studying as a full time student.
If I could do it all again… I would tell myself to stop, breathe and believe.
One last thing... I never want to stop learning and being exposed to people who challenge my perspective. I hope to be able to be a lifelong student.