Creating culturally safe health care at its source

  • Dja Dja Warrung representative Lewis Brown telling stories about Djaara country in Bendigo to foundational clinical year medicine students.

Dja Dja Warrung representative Lewis Brown telling stories about Djaara country in Bendigo to foundational clinical year medicine students.

David Byrnes
By
David Byrnes
Aboriginal Communities Engagement Lead
Monash Rural Health
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Training health professionals to give the best possible culturally safe care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people needs to start during their university studies and Monash Rural Health has established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Framework to ensure it happens.

Releasing this framework in 2023 has been one of our School's proudest achievements - the culmination of a journey that began in Mildura in 2020. Responding to a call from community elders to have our own framework, we held a world cafe which led to developing the underpinning themes of the framework - recognition, knowledge sharing, knowledge gathering and local communities.

After significant development and engagement, the framework was born. We engaged with Barkindji Ngiyampaa Maligundidj artist, Tracy Wise, to create the booklet's cover. My role, as the inaugural Aboriginal Communities Engagement Lead, was created and appointed to oversee the implementation and liaise with community, industry and government stakeholders to support the delivery of this strategy.

Monash Rural Health has begun implementation of the framework by providing cultural immersion activities for its medical students to ensure that our medical graduates are well equipped with culturally safe approaches to deliver health services that meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Born and bred on Latji Latji country, I have worked with local traditional owner groups to develop a range of activities to open up cultural understanding for medical students.

Key aspects of the approach we are taking include valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perspectives and incorporating this into students’ curriculum, increasing the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with extra support, and growing research that addresses and serves the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

Practical examples of our approach include working with Dja Dja Warrung traditional owners in Bendigo to take students out on country, providing a space to sit and listen to stories of country and the local community. In Mildura, indigenous Clontarf Academy students have explored careers in health with a day on the Mildura Rural Health campus. In Gippsland, medical students will go out on a camp with Koori students organised by the Centre for Excellence of Aboriginal Health in East Gippsland.

Reflecting on my own experience of health care growing up, there is much room for improvement in current health centres to provide more culturally safe care.

During my younger years, I was always unwilling to go into any sort of health setting, due to feelings of uncertainty and not really understanding what was being said or what was going on.

We want our medical students to learn to provide a space where the Aboriginal community feel like they are able to come and be listened to without any prejudice.

Creating more culturally safe health services starts at the front door, and to make our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students feel more welcome, we are incorporating Aboriginal artworks and place names into our buildings and facilities.

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Framework will be publicly launched in the coming months across the Monash Rural Health sites in Gippsland and North West Victoria. In 2024, we hope to expand on the implementation of our plan with research and additional opportunities for staff and students to undertake cultural awareness training, to build health workers that truly serve the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Read the Monash Rural Health Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Framework 2021-2030

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