James Charles has been named the 2017 National NAIDOC Scholar of the year – an impressive feat for the Albury-based academic.
The Charles Sturt University lecturer said he wanted to give back to his community and make a contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander foot health.
Dr Charles, a Kaurna man from Adelaide, said podiatry was highly undervalued but he hoped his research and award was a step towards public awareness.
“People neglect their feet, in general they don’t think about them,” he said.
“Particularly in Aboriginal communities there’s so many other health problems and issues people are not aware of what a podiatrist can do for them.
"In my research for my PhD, I found that it was not just diabetes and smoking that caused poor foot health outcomes that results in the high rates of foot amputation among Aboriginal communities, but also the changing foot structure of Aboriginal people.”
Dr Charles said he was overwhelmed when he was named the NAIDOC Scholar of the Year at a 2000-strong gala awards night in Cairns.
“It was amazing, truly,” he said.
“My heart was pounding, as an Aboriginal person and an academic it’s the biggest award. I know people who have won in the past and I looked up to them.
“That sort of acknowledgement and approval from people who are your peers, or higher than your peers – it’s excellent feedback.”
Dr Charles’ research found Aboriginal feet had a different structure, which contributes to problems.
He said there were many more steps to take to secure better foot health of Indigenous people and he hoped his win would promote the cause.
“Unfortunately in the Aboriginal community there’s a lot of non healing wounds, infections and amputations. Amputations are highly prevalent and exponentially increasing,” he said.
“It’s great to get the award and I hope to use it to shine a light on foot health and use it to promote good foot health, the benefits of podiatry and research.
“I’d also encourage other Aboriginal people to consider getting involved in education, university and become health professionals.
“I think Aboriginal people themselves are the best people to make a contribution to the education and health of other Aboriginal people.”
Dr Charles graduated from the University of South Australia where he went on to complete his Masters and PhD.
He works with leading universities to educate professionals on providing culturally appropriate health care as well as working with Aboriginal communities.