Students take initiative on Indigenous Health

1 June 2009

For any health sciences student to have a positive interaction with patients once entering the workforce, an understanding of the experiences, values and lifestyles of other cultures is imperative.

Divija, Susie and Lanvy with guest speaker Noel Butler from Jamanee Gunya
Divija, Susie and Lanvy with guest speaker Noel Butler from Jamanee Gunya

In Australia, an insight into Indigenous culture is particularly relevant in making sure students are ready for a successful experience in the workplace. As a result, a group of students from various disciplines were inspired to form the Indigenous Health Interest Group. Graduate Entry Master's students Lanvy Tu (Speech Pathology) and Divija Paramatmuni (Speech Pathology) and undergraduate students Eileen Simoni (Occupational Therapy) and Susie Davis (Exercise and Sport Science/Nutrition and Dietetics) established the group after a visit to Jamanee Gunya, an Indigenous Health Weekend Workshop for University students.

The group points out that all students, regardless of discipline, will have patients or clients who are Indigenous. Therefore, it is important to have an understanding of their culture, especially as it may be very different to the 'western medicine model'. The objective of the group is to increase awareness of how, as health professionals, students can provide quality services to Indigenous people by being culturally sensitive.

Divija recalled how the idea really took off when the students learnt more about Yooroang Garang, the centre for Indigenous student support at Cumberland Campus. "Here was a resource where health students could learn about Indigenous culture from Indigenous students, and similarly, Indigenous students could learn about the different disciplines", she said.

While the Faculty promotes multi-disciplinary awareness and cultural sensitivity, the students had found that time constraints and focused curricula meant they did not have as many opportunities as they would like to integrate with other disciplines and explore other cultures and the impact this has on health care delivery. "Once we are working in the health field, there will be a multi-disciplinary focus, so it is important to have that awareness beforehand of who does what", said Divija.

Thus, through the creation of the Indigenous Health Interest Group, the students have developed a greater awareness of Indigenous culture and of each other's areas of expertise. They have begun to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for Aboriginal people and how they view their own culture, 'western' culture, and what they would like to see change within the health field. "I've learnt much about how Aboriginal people would like health professionals to interact with them, and how they would like to be part of that change", she said.

The Indigenous Health Interest Group meets the last Tuesday of every month, and often features prominent Indigenous guest speakers. All students and staff are welcome

For more information and to get involved, contact Lanvy, Divija, Eileen or Susie on