Growing the Indigenous healthcare workforce
Monash University’s Growing Indigenous Graduates program is designed to ensure that Indigenous high school students do not miss out on opportunities to pursue medical, nursing and allied health degrees because of cultural safety or socio-economic barriers.
The program was developed in 2014 by Professor Karen Adams, Director of the Faculty’s Gukwonderuk Indigenous Unit. It engages Indigenous students in health profession courses (and subsequently enhances the presence of Indigenous professionals in our healthcare system) through a range of initiatives. This includes introduction of a lower entry score and a flexible application process for Indigenous students, with a culturally appropriate multi-mini interview.
Tests like the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) for entrance into medicine, are skewed heavily towards students from higher socio-economic groups. Every Indigenous student that lists a Monash University health course in their tertiary admission preferences is interviewed by an all-Indigenous panel including an academic, Indigenous engagement specialist and a local community Elder.
Satya Hallewas, a fourth-year medical student, experienced this first-hand. When she applied for medicine at Monash, she was interviewed by Elder Aunty Diane, about the course and her career aspirations.
"They talked to me about who I was, which was refreshing," she recalls.
Importantly Satya's mum was also invited into the panel discussion and was told how Satya would be supported through her studies and life on campus.
"This was very important to me and helped me decide to go with Monash."
As Professor Michelle Leech, Deputy Dean of Monash University’s medical program explains, strategies like the Growing Indigenous Graduates program are critical to diversifying our healthcare workforce.
“If we are to fulfil targets set by the Victorian Public Sector Commission in 2017, that 2% of the public health system is made up of Indigenous employees, then we need to ensure that we are boosting the number of Indigenous students in medical and allied health courses, and we need to look differently at the way we choose these applicants, not relying so heavily on ATAR scores.”
Last year, a study found the program had more than doubled Indigenous enrolments across Monash’s medicine, nursing and allied health degrees – from 45 enrolments in 2014 to 102 in 2020. A milestone achievement included 18 graduates in 2019, among them the first two Indigenous doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.
While it’s anticipated that new processes for the 2020-21 admissions round will grow this further, Professor Leech cites the enrolment of Indigenous medical students at Otago University in New Zealand as a benchmark.
“Thirty per cent of the medical students at Otago University are Maori because they compete for places using a supported non-aptitude approved pathway”, she explains. Those students thrive and go on to be successful health practitioners.
The Growing Indigenous Graduates program’s support extends beyond the admission process and nurtures Indigenous talent throughout their degree. This includes access to a peer support network, which sees senior Indigenous medical students mentoring younger ones.
As Professor Adams notes, there are multiple benefits to having Indigenous peoples in the health professions, who are professionally and culturally strong.
“Having a health degree improves lifelong social determinants of health, not only for the individual, but their family. Graduates become role models to other Indigenous people demystifying the process of obtaining a University degree and healthcare. In addition, Indigenous graduates in the workforce strengthen cultural safety, particularly as health services with Indigenous staff are known to have increased accessibility for Indigenous peoples.”
While there’s much to be proud of, an ambitious new target of increasing Indigenous student enrolments to 3% of the Faculty’s domestic population, means there’s still more work to be done – and help needed.
Gukwonderuk’s current resources cover the cost of University accommodation for 12 students a year. But demand now outweighs resources, explains Professor Adams.
“With philanthropic support, we can increase our outreach program and enable more Indigenous students the affordability to access University and importantly, increase the number of indigenous health professionals.”
For more information about Gukwonderuk or to support our Growing Indigenous Graduates program, please contact:
Professor Karen Adams
Gukwonderuk Indigenous Unit
Deputy Director Development
T: +61 3 9903 1485
M: +61 437 236 878