Janine Mohamed, CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) talks to The Lamp about meeting the challenges facing Indigenous nurses, midwives and patients within our health system.
Q: What are your goals for CATSINaM?
I am absolutely passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and also about increasing the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives in the health system, and improving their experiences in their workplaces.
An important way to address all these goals is to improve the cultural safety of health professionals and health services.
I also want the nursing and midwifery professions to think about how we might want to make a formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, following the example recently set by the Australian Psychological Society.
Q: What is the role of CATSINaM in closing the gap?
Our main priority at CATSINaM is to increase the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the nursing and midwifery professions. This is vital for improving the health and social and economic outcomes for our people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives account for only about one per cent of the total nursing workforce, which is far less than what we’d like to see, given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are three per cent of the Australian population.
CATSINaM also wants to positively affect the education of non-Indigenous nurses and midwives, ensuring they receive a good grounding in what cultural safety and respect is, and that this is a lifelong journey. CATSINaM also works with its partners in Aboriginal Health to ensure we have a health system free of racism.
Q: What particular issues do Indigenous nurses face at work?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives belong to the world’s oldest living cultures. We are resilient, strong and proud peoples. We have survived the horrors of colonisation and the oppression that continues across so many parts of society today.
But often we are in workplaces that do not properly support us to undertake our cultural responsibilities. Often we are in workplaces where institutional racism is so embedded that it is not visible – except to those of us who are harmed by it.
It is for these reasons that I am so determined to see cultural safety embedded across the health system; it is important for our members, as well as their patients.
Q: Can you mention a couple of ways that Indigenous nurses and midwives are starting to transform health outcomes for the Indigenous community?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been performing the roles of nursing and midwifery for tens of thousands of years.
We have a long and proud history of caring for, and with, our people and our communities. It would be great to see nursing and midwifery informed by this history to have a shared history of nursing and midwifery in Australia.
We have a very clear understanding that health services provision with the community, through the philosophies of self-determination, is key to improving health outcomes.
Since colonisation began its devastating toll upon our country and our people, we have continued to provide this care.
May Yarrowick, who trained as an obstetric nurse in Sydney in 1903, may well be our first Indigenous nurse qualified in Western nursing.
We need to be very clear that the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses have a long history.
Q: How can employers attract and support the Indigenous nursing workforce?
Employers need to ensure that people at all levels of their organisations – from governance structures and senior executives to the clerical and reception staff – have the opportunity to meaningfully engage with cultural safety training. There needs to be an understanding that this is not a one-off, tick-the-box event, but a process that requires constant work and self-examination. These structures need to be examined to ensure they include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Initiatives like cadetships, running cultural safety training within organisations, and modelling work that is successful, are some of the strategies employers can deploy to attract and retain our members.
Another key idea is encouraging their Indigenous nursing and midwifery staff to join CATSINaM.
Q: How can nurses and midwives work better with Aboriginal Health Workers?
If nurses and midwives do not have a sound understanding of cultural safety and respect and a commitment to continually work towards culturally safe practice, then their capacity for working with Aboriginal Health Workers will be compromised. There is also a very real possibility they will only add to the burden upon their Aboriginal Health Worker colleagues.
Q: What are the good news stories and the progress being made in Aboriginal health?
An achievement I believe we should all feel proud of is that we are beginning to talk about and name racism in our health system. the work we all have now is to eradicate it and not give this to our children to deal with.
I am also really proud of what CATSINaM has achieved – for our resourcing, we punch way above our weight in the impact we have across so many spheres – from policy and program development to helping to grow the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives.
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