Creating an environment where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare practitioners and researchers feel welcome and supported at work is critical to improving equality across all aspects of the healthcare sector.
Initiatives to create these kinds of environments have been particularly successful at both the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Melbourne Medical School at the University of Melbourne.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital, as well as recently launching an Aboriginal Health Unit, now has 15 Aboriginal clinicians on staff. The Melbourne Medical School’s 2022 intake also include 14 Aboriginal students – a significant increase over previous years.
Gabrielle Ebsworth, Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and co-chair of the MACH Aboriginal Leadership Group, says these achievements can be attributed to well-implemented programs.
“The Aboriginal intern program that is run by Dr Glenn Harrison has provided a lot of that success,” says Ebsworth.
“It makes Royal Melbourne an accessible hospital for young doctors, and then graduating students.”
As part of the program, two spots are put aside for graduating Aboriginal medical students, however the hospital has the scope to take on more applicants than just the two positions.
Also, having a prominent and visible Aboriginal staff in the organisation also makes a difference.
“Having a connection between Aboriginal staff, and having people to lean and rely on, has been integral to keeping me in my role,” says Ebsworth.
“When you’re working in a historically white and colonial system that isn’t made for Aboriginal people, to have people who understand what you’re going through so important.
“I’ve definitely benefited a lot from having a strong Aboriginal workforce presence at the hospital.”
The hospital has also developed innovative healthcare programs specifically designed to provide culturally sensitive care.
Launched in February 2021, The First Nations Dermatology Service is unique in Australia. It provides access to specialist, culturally sensitive dermatology services to First Nations people Australia-wide through telehealth consultations.
“The program is all-Aboriginal run – it’s run by myself and dermatologist Dr Crystal Williams,” says Ebsworth. “It’s a really incredible service.”
The program was also a recipient of the Telstra 2021 Brilliant Women in Digital Health Award.
MACH’s Aboriginal Leadership Group is working to encourage and drive similar initiatives across all MACH partners.
“The ALG has meant that we can have more of an Aboriginal health response across MACH partners, it’s no longer individual organisations doing whatever they want,” says Ebsworth.
As well as compiling libraries of resources on ethical practice in Indigenous health research and supporting several research projects, for the latter half of the year the ALG is improving the structure and standards of how cultural safety is undertaken across all MACH members.
“One of our big goals is to have more of a standardised approach so that no matter where you go across MACH’s partners, you’re going to get the same levels of cultural safety at each partner,” says Ebsworth.