Skip to main content

The Inspiring Indigenous Women of Health Care – by Amanda Griffiths and Sab Ocampo

Inspirational, The Health Industry

This year I was in Cairns for NAIDOC week, and Cairns Indigenous Art Fair which was held the following week. It brought back so many of memories from 2010 when I did 3 trips to provide primary eye care in indigenous communities in Cape York and also to Yarrabah, just south of Cairns.

I remember how amazing the support staff Lance and Noel were on those trips. I remembered how it was “the Dons” that is, the Director of Nursing in each community basically ran those communities. They knew everyone’s health status and life situation, and were always there for everything from when disaster struck to taking care of the little things.

I remember doing my best to help people as much as I could, but deep down wondering if I was part of the problem or part of the solution. It was all very well for the eye team (sometimes we had an ophthalmologist on the trips too) to blow into town 3 times a year, but what about the in between times? And what about the things the patients didn’t feel comfortable telling us because we weren’t their mob?

I remember thinking that we needed to raise a generation of Indigenous health professionals to really help Close The Gap. So in July this year I was so excited to see the New South Wales Medical Students’ Council’s Facebook posts about indigenous students and what they’re up to. This is where it’s at.

It was an absolute privilege to be able to attend exhibitions, the fashion parade and workshops at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF). To learn basket weaving and to see it being done so beautifully (not by me – mine was terrible!!) was such a treat. It was the fashion parade in particular that stood out. It occurred to me that it might be possible to work with Indigenous designers to do a range of items such as bags, scarves, pyjamas and other items of clothing with some of the proceeds being directed back into health programs in the indigenous communities. I will be looking into this in the coming months.

My Health Career lead writer Sab Ocampo had a look at what was happening in the industry for NAIDOC week. Following is her story.

Health industry organisations—Exercise & Sports Science Association, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), and Australasian College of Dermatologists across Australia commemorated this event in various ways. Some used the event to remind the government to prioritize the close the gap campaign. While others stayed true to the theme “Because of her, we can” by honouring wonderful women of indigenous origin.

ESSA focused on advocating for physical activity among indigenous people as reports reveal that in 2012–13, about 2 in 3 (64%) ATSI adults aged 18 and over in non-remote areas were not sufficiently active.

And while statistics reveal increased percentage of physically active indigenous people aged 4-14 to 76% in 2014-15, physical activity still accounts for about 8% of health burden among indigenous people (compared to 6.6% in non-Indigenous Australians).

Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive Officer said, “Higher rates of sedentary behaviours are associated with an increased risk of chronic disease. Improving physical activity levels presents a significant opportunity for health improvements and for reducing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

Bree Sauer, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and proud Iman tribe woman explains, “It is really important that we encourage our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mothers, Aunties, daughters, young sisters and cousins to be active.”

ESSA also celebrated the accomplishments of these inspiring women of sports:

  • Cathy Freeman, OAM – the first Australian Indigenous person to become a Commonwealth Games gold medallist at age 16. This was in 1990 for the 4 × 100m relay.
  • Nova Peris-Kneebone, OAM – the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal. This was at the 1996 Olympic Games with the Australian women’s hockey team, the Hockeyroos.
  • Rohanee Cox – plays for Sydney Uni Flames for the Women’s NBL and was the first indigenous woman to win a basketball medal for Australia.
  • Ashleigh Gardner – plays for the Sydney Sixers in the Australian Women’s Big Bash League and was the first indigenous woman to play in a cricket World Cup.
  • Kira Phillips – plays for Fremantle Dockers and was the first player of indigenous descent to score in the Women’s AFL.

“We are so proud of these deadly women who inspire and encourage our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mothers, Aunties, daughters, sisters and cousins to become more involved in sport and exercise in the community” says Bree.

The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine paid tribute to the Indigenous women doctors working in the health care frontline highlighting the contributions as health professionals and their importance as role models.

As ACRRM President Associate Professor Ruth Stewart said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.

“That’s why it’s important the College encourages more Indigenous men and women into our training programs; to be the example to others who are considering a career in medicine.

“Because of her we can is about recognising and celebrating the achievements of indigenous women whose voices and passion have paved the way for current generations and future generations.

“Women like Donna Ah Chee, CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Rural Medicine Australia 2018 keynote speaker. We are very excited to have Donna, an influential member of the Aboriginal health community speaking at RMA18. She is a wonderful example of the strength and abilities of women in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and what can be achieved in these communities when your work holds cultural respects at its heart.” President Stewart stated.

Australasian College of Dermatologists revisited updates for the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) released last year which aims for better skin care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Dr Ian McCrossin, a dermatologist with the ACD who dedicated his career to improve health outcomes for the indigenous community said, “My travels have given me an appreciation of the unique challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people growing up in local rural communities. I have had the absolute privilege of visiting remote communities in Arnhem Land with Aboriginal Health Workers and learning part of the Yolgnu culture.”

He continued, “Working on the RAP has been a great project to promote training and education

on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander skin health. We have also successfully obtained

Commonwealth Government funding for a dedicated training position for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors to specialise in dermatology through the Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges Indigenous Affairs Committee.”

More articles on My Health Career: