11.2 Professions and universities collaborating

Professional bodies, such as the Australian Medical Council, set service-level requirements and knowledge and skill standards for member practitioners within their own professions. Each body has a role to play in the development of cultural competence of member practitioners and in increasing the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This work by necessity is collaborative and involves universities and other education providers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners and communities. Such partnerships help to improve the quality of services provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

11.2.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • ongoing relationships are maintained between professions, universities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • professional bodies are committed to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • realistic and measurable targets are identified, monitored and celebrated by all parties.

11.2.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • recruiting sufficient numbers of professionally qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff within relevant disciplines
  • dealing with the fact that many students are mature age and have limited prior educational experience
  • providing access to discipline-related technologies in regional and remote locations
  • increasing the range of professions in which working relationships exist between professional bodies, universities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

11.2.3 Examples

Charles Sturt University – Djirruwang Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Program

The Djirruwang Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Program is a collaboration between Charles Sturt University, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based organisations and government health service providers. It was developed to meet a need for qualified mental health workers in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Critical relationships have been forged with NSW Health, WA Health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service providers.

The Djirruwang degree program was designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Most students are mature age (the average age is 36) and work in the field of mental health. The design of the program enables students to maintain a balance between life, study, work, family and community responsibilities. Students study four subjects each year. Delivery is through two residential teaching blocks, supplemented by the provision of teaching materials, the university’s mobile learning and teaching support unit and compulsory workplace experience. Students are empowered in their study by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities when they arrive on Country.

Djirruwang graduates achieve a Bachelor of Health Science (Mental Health) or exit the program with diploma or degree qualifications. They can also return to pursue higher qualifications. Graduates’ knowledge and skills align with the National Competency Standards for Aboriginal Health Workers and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, both of which are recognised by prospective employers in the field. Graduates find employment at various levels within mental health services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health services.

Charles Sturt University and the NSW Police Force – Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery

The NSW Police Force, with support from TAFE NSW, Charles Sturt University, the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc. and others, provides the Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery (IPROWD) training program. The program prepares Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for entry to the Associate Degree in Policing Practice (the prerequisite qualification for a career in the NSW Police Force), which is delivered jointly by the NSW Police Force and Charles Sturt University. The IPROWD program is offered in towns across New South Wales, including Broken Hill, Casino/lismore, Dubbo, Maitland, Nowra and Tamworth, as well as in Redfern and Mount Druitt within Sydney.

In 2011, 104 students completed IPROWD training. Of these, approximately 30% went on to study for the Associate Degree in Policing Practice and 40% found other employment.

The program illustrates how a profession can support the creation of a professional development pathway that prepares individuals for tertiary education and entry into the profession. It also supports the NSW Police Force’s commitment to engaging with communities, bringing police officers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities together, and growing respectful relationships between policing professionals and the communities they serve.

Flinders University, Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Government – Northern Territory Medical Program

The Northern Territory Medical Program commenced in 2011. It is a partnership between Flinders University, Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Government. The program will see up to 40 Northern Territory–trained doctors graduating per year.

The Northern Territory Government has identified that there are insufficient doctors in the Northern Territory. Its commitment to the program includes payment of HECS-HELP liabilities for up to 24 students from the Northern Territory. These graduating doctors will be required to make a commitment to work for the Northern Territory Government health service for two years following graduation.

In 2011, 10 of the 24 Northern Territory students enrolled in the program were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A focus of the program is the recruitment and training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students to become doctors in the Northern Territory. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants may apply to enter the study of medicine in the same way as non-Indigenous applicants. However, the program also provides an Indigenous entry stream as a separate pathway and supports applicants through the process. This includes interviews with panels comprising program staff and representatives of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and the community.