Five tips to improve your Indigenous health skills (inspired by our recent cultural immersion weekend)
Dr Nicole Weber, a second year GPTQ registrar currently practising in Ipswich, says the Stradbroke Island Indigenous Health Training weekend has changed her approach and attitude to Indigenous health.
“Before I left, I thought I had a good knowledge of Indigenous issues having spent a few weeks in the NT in rural communities many years ago. But this trip made me realise how much more I had to learn,” Nicole says.
The cultural weekend gives registrars a unique opportunity to learn about Indigenous health directly from Aboriginal elders, community members, health workers and local AMS staff.
1. Be aware and inclusive of Indigenous patients
Nicole says the weekend fired her passion for Indigenous health. She’s implemented a number of changes in her practice room, both in style and substance, as a result.
“I gave my room a cultural makeover incorporating the Aboriginal art we made and hanging up the Indigenous signs and charts we were given. A number of my patients have commented saying they really like the change,” she says.
“I’m also more aware about always checking whether a patient is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent so I can offer them a 751 health check. I learnt about things like referring people for electricity subsidies and other available resources. I shared this knowledge with my GPTQ learning group too.”
2. Listen to Indigenous people and their stories
Nicole says: “There is no substitute to hearing stories first hand. Talking with local elders gave me a much deeper understanding of what impact the past has had on the local Indigenous people and how it has affected their health and the community as a whole,” she says. “Spending time with the Stradbroke community has definitely changed my attitude. It’s very much gone from a ‘head’ thing to a ‘heart’ thing.”
3. Gain experience at an Aboriginal Medical Service
Apart from these personal encounters, Nicole enjoyed visiting the local AMS. She spent time with the doctors there, seeing what resources they have and discussing their patients and the types of challenges they face.
“They see a unique population with specific challenges and needs. Patients might be dealing with crowded housing, travel difficulties or hygiene issues as some communities on Stradbroke Island don’t have fresh running water or electricity. Some patients may also need to attend to sorry business and prioritise this over their medical appointments,” she says.
“Hearing about these things helped me think more laterally about treating Indigenous patients. I need to consider these peripheral issues that go beyond the personal level – there’s the family and community aspect to think about too,” she says.
4. Learn about Indigenous culture
While meeting with the community elders was Nicole’s favourite part of the weekend, her encounter with local Indigenous man, Matty Burns, came a very close second.
“He showed us how to light a fire, throw a spear and play the didgeridoo. He took us on a bush tour of the island which was really eye-opening. I had no idea how much food has been right under my nose! The bush guavas were particularly delicious.”
5. Take part in a cultural immersion weekend
Held in early August, this year’s event was run by our Indigenous Health Medical Educator, Dr Danielle Arabena. It featured hands-on workshops and case-based sessions that allowed registrars to work on their consultation and communication skills when treating Indigenous patients. Registrars also visited the local AMS (Yulu Burri Ba), met Indigenous elders and engaged in a number of interesting and stimulating cultural activities – all while accruing 11 education hours towards their GP training.
GPTQ will be running further cultural immersion events in 2018, both on Stradbroke Island and out west in Cherbourg.
“It’s an amazing weekend for a lot of reasons as it adds so much depth to your understanding of Aboriginal people. It’s learning that I don’t think you can get anywhere else,” says Nicole.