Professor Karen Adams

"There is an inherent lack of research available…. on the changes required to make health services more culturally safe and responsive."


Director of Gukwonderuk, the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences’ Indigenous engagement unit and Wiradjuri Woman, Professor Karen Adams, is no stranger to working in the unknown.

Professor Adams is ignited by the question: “how do you know if it’s working?” fuelled by work in the early years of her career in community education within Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations.

This question led her to complete a Master of Applied Epidemiology, followed by a PhD which focused on social network analysis and child health. Today, along with her team, Professor Adams’ research aims to increase the number of Indigenous Health professionals across the sector, and to educate healthcare workers to respectfully engage with Indigenous patients.

“There is an inherent lack of research available, at an operational level, on changes required to make health services more culturally safe and responsive”.

Professor Adams speaks of her research as a life-long learning journey and asserts that the path forward needs to be a staunchly anti-racist approach, involving increasing the capacity of Indigenous students and a robust Indigenous healthcare workforce. Professor Adams stresses that “healthcare learning and teaching needs to include what Indigenous health service consumers want. The voice of the consumer must be present during the education and training stage.”

The Professor encourages non-Indigenous peoples to “prioritise listening and self-reflection when undertaking work with Indigenous communities, as people can learn much from First Peoples of Australia, who deserve the utmost respect and cultural safety from this country”.

Professor Adams also convenes an Indigenous Health Graduate Research Circle. The Circle is comprised of a growing number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous PhD students researching in the Indigenous health space. Students’ research has an educational and social and emotional wellbeing focus including areas, such as: lateral violence; men’s groups; young urban peoples’ connection to culture and; the relationship between land-based practices and social and emotional wellbeing.

In addition to her research, Professor Adams mentors and supervises Indigenous researchers who work within communities, and highlights the need for more Indigenous researchers, across all discipline areas. “Not only do we need to employ more Indigenous researchers, we need to make sure we keep them”.

Professor Karen Adams,
Director, Gukwonderuk Indigenous Health Unit - Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences