News

Breaking down communication barriers between health professionals and Indigenous people


4 August 2011

Marlene Cummins, one of the actors in the videos.
Marlene Cummins, one of the actors in the videos.

An innovative Indigenous online teaching resource launched on 4 August will help 'close the gap' between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through improving communication between health professionals and Indigenous people.

The Byalawa project comprises a website and a set of six online videos designed to assist health sciences students across a range of disciplines learn to effectively communicate with Indigenous patients and clients.

Health professionals such as lead researcher Dr Tricia McCabe, from the Faculty of Health Sciences, have long known that cultural misunderstandings can be a barrier to communication.

Factors that can limit effective communication between Aboriginal patients and healthcare workers include a lack of patient control over language, timing, content and circumstances of the interactions; and most importantly for this project, a lack of staff training in intercultural communication.

To create the videos Dr McCabe conducted qualitative research through focus groups with Aboriginal people.

"We asked our groups to tell us their stories of when they had seen health professionals. When it had gone well, and when it had gone badly. From these insights we scripted six vignettes that feature Aboriginal actors talking to, or sometimes clashing with, real-world health professionals, including a pharmacist, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist and a speech pathologist.

The videos show Aboriginal actors talking to, or sometimes clashing with, real-world health professionals.
The videos show Aboriginal actors talking to, or sometimes clashing with, real-world health professionals.

"As teaching materials, the videos offer authenticity in interaction because the Aboriginal actors' roles are partially scripted, but the health professionals offer real and impromptu responses to the situation."

Dr McCabe says the finished video vignettes are accompanied by talking points for students and teachers. This combination of video and learning guide can be used to direct health students in developing insights linked to McCabe's focus-group research.

The Byalawa resources were designed by the Byalawa Project Team as part of Australian Learning and Teaching Council Competitive Research Grant. The Byalawa Team included health academics and clinicians from the University of Sydney and James Cook University and represented a wide range of health professions including speech pathology, occupational therapy, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and dentistry. Leaders in Indigenous health education from both Universities were important team members.

Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) at the University of Sydney launched the Byalawa resources project with an opening address on 4 August at the Cumberland Campus.


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Media enquiries: Jacqueline Chowns, 0434 605 018, 9036 5404, jacqueline.chowns@sydney.edu.au