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Research into shortage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives

[by Bruce Andrews]

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Image: supplied

A Charles Sturt University nursing educator is part of a multi-organisation research team to be awarded a large grant to investigate why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are under-represented in the ranks of nurses and midwives.

Head of the Charles Sturt School of Nursing, Paramedicine and Healthcare Sciences Associate Professor Linda Deravin is a member of the research team led by Professor Karen Adams, Director of the Gukwonderuk Indigenous Unit in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Science at Monash University.

The $1.1 million ARC Discovery Indigenous Grant is awarded to a team of researchers from Muliyan, a consortium of nurse and midwifery education researchers and hosted by the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives that Associate Professor Deravin is part of.

Associate Professor Deravin said the $1.1 million ARC Discovery Indigenous Grant is the largest-ever funded ARC Indigenous grant and represents a significant approximate 10 per cent of the total Indigenous Discovery grant allocation of $10,688,702.

“There is a significant under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the nursing and midwifery professions,” Professor Deravin said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are only 1.3 per cent of the nursing and midwifery professions in Australia, far below the 3.8 per cent of the nation’s First Nations population (as of June 2021).

And while 2.2 per cent of nursing and midwifery graduates are First Nations people, this is also below the national average.

Professor Deravin said there is an urgent need for an increased representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and knowledge in nursing and midwifery to support improving health outcomes for First nations peoples.

“The presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in healthcare workforces improves cultural safety for all patients and positively impacts access and patient outcomes,” she said.

The researchers aim to strengthen anti-racism and cultural safety in healthcare education and will examine how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been excluded from the design of midwifery and nursing principles and will develop new, more inclusive, frameworks for the teaching of nursing and midwifery.

Nurses and midwives make up round 60 per cent of the Australian health workforce, however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are under-represented in nursing and midwifery and higher education institutions struggle to recruit and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nursing and midwifery students.

In 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students made up 2.8 per cent of the nurse and midwife student body across the nation, yet only 70 per cent of those students completed their undergraduate course.

“This is far less than population parity at around 3.8 per cent or the even higher percentage that would be required for cultural safety to be achieved in healthcare,” Professor Deravin said.

While there have been strategies in place to address this inequity ─ including university student engagement programs and pipeline strategies to support from primary/secondary school students to enter the nursing and midwifery professions ─ Professor Deravin and the research team believe that, to fully address these inequities, it is crucial that higher education institutions implement meaningful working partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“We need to re-imagine and re-create programs that value and privilege Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and perspectives,” she said.

“This is particularly important as there has been exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the fundamental conceptualisation of nursing and midwifery theory and practice.”

To address these challenges this research will develop an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurse and midwifery theory and principles for practice.

In addition, it will generate new understanding about how this can be implemented in nurse and midwifery education in urban and regional settings.

“In this way we hope to increase the enrolment of students into these courses and retention in these careers in the future,” she said.

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