Petah Atkinson

"As an Aboriginal researcher - it’s a personal responsibility and obligation to work with integrity and respect. What I do has to have meaning and purpose for our people. I hope that my grandchildren can access a healthcare system that’s free from racism and one that responds to their needs, whatever they are, safely and appropriately.”


For Petah Atkinson, working in the Aboriginal health sector was a core part of her family, in particular, for the females. Petah’s mother was one of the first people to graduate from Koorie College, as a clinically trained Aboriginal Health Worker. It was always her first priority to ensure that Aboriginal people received appropriate health care, and Petah is proud to continue in her mother’s footsteps and contribute to this field.

Petah has always worked in the Aboriginal health sector, from Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, to eventually becoming the first Aboriginal person employed as a lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Shepparton Campus.

After moving to Monash, to continue lecturing for the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Petah was strongly encouraged and supported to do a PhD. She is currently completing her PhD in Medical Education, specialising in Aboriginal health curriculum. “For many years, universities have been encouraged to teach about Indigenous health in medical courses. They have been provided with resources, including curriculum frameworks; however, what was often missing, was the lived experience of the health consumer, in this case, Aboriginal patients. That is what I hope to contribute to this work.”

Petah wanted to give a voice to the consumer. Aborignal community members have a wealth of knowledge to share, and it’s important to understand their perspectives of health.  For the student learning about Aboriginal health, the patient voice provides knowledge to apply in the clinical setting. “What you talk about with a patient is different to what you learn in a lecture - you need to hear it from their perspective.”

“There’s knowledge and wisdom in Aborignal communities - our role as researchers is to learn about that in a respectful way and incorporate that into our research. In practice, it’s acknowledging that this knowledge already exists. It’s not to redefine it, it’s to honour and respect that.”

Petah states that Monash has been a supportive workplace, and provided her the opportunity to pursue a career in research. “Without Monash, I would not have formed the relationships I have today, and be supervised by such prominent figures in research. Karen Adams is a prime example of someone who conducts research with integrity; and Marilyn Baird’s support goes well beyond her role as my supervisor; as such, we each benefit in many ways from our research relationship”.

Petah Atkinson,
Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate, Gukwonderuk Indigenous Health Unit - Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences