Thursday, 19 January 2012

A new major in Aboriginal health to be offered from next year is aimed at enabling university students to take a deeper understanding of Indigenous health issues with them into their chosen career.

And a proposed advanced diploma in health professional studies is expected to encourage mature-age Indigenous people to consider a career as a health professional.

Both the Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing major, offered in the Bachelor of Science degree, and the proposed diploma are believed to be the first of their kind in Australia.

Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health (CAMDH) Senior Lecturer Dr David Paul said the introduction of the major was a big step forward. "Instead of providing Aboriginal health teaching to students enrolled in medicine, dentistry, podiatry or nursing, it is providing an Aboriginal health focus for the rest of the university, to all students to have access to, if they wish," he said.

"Hopefully that will provide a whole range of graduates who will be better informed about Aboriginal health issues, irrespective of what they go and do next."

Also with the move to post-graduate Moves for sharper focus on Indigenous health professional courses, it was expected many students headed for a career in health would choose the BSc as their undergraduate course, and it was hoped a significant number would choose the new major, he said.

A possible flow-on effect was that more health graduates would be interested in working in Aboriginal health, both in the city and in rural and remote areas.

This effect would be compounded by the fact that the students would be taught mainly by Aboriginal health professionals and have the chance to work with Indigenous people.

About 50 students are expected in the first intake.

CAMDH Associate Professor Tim Fetherstonhaugh said the planned diploma in health professional studies would provide a pathway for mature-age Indigenous people to embark on a post-graduate career in medicine, dentistry, podiatry or nursing.

It will offer an alternative to an undergraduate degree entry after 2013, when the new postgraduate degrees will start to be phased in.

"The diploma course was seen as a way to provide an intensive course for particular students who have had some experience working in the health field," Associate Professor Fetherstonhaugh said.

The one-year diploma will be available to Aboriginal students over the age of 20 years. Potential students will include Aboriginal health workers and enrolled nurses.

"They will bring to bear a wealth of experience," Associate Professor Fetherstonhaugh said.

Dr Paul said the aim was to eventually enrol about 25 students.

"We are working in collaboration with some other universities because we see the diploma as a pathway for access to post-graduate courses elsewhere as well, not just for UWA," he said. "We have currently got a formal agreement with Melbourne University.

"It is about improving the numbers of Indigenous people in the health workforce." There were currently about 160 Indigenous doctors in Australia but on a population basis, there should be more than 1500, he said. There have been 23 Aboriginal medical graduates from the Faculty.

Media references

Associate Professor Tim Fetherstonhaugh (Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health (CAMDH)) (+61 8) 6488 6891

Published in December 2012 edition of Medefacts.


Teaching and Learning
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences