Shawana Andrews the Associate Dean (Indigenous ) discusses the Faculty’s new Indigenous curriculum Many Ways Learning and the importance of increasing the representation of Indigenous students and academics.
For the past five years Shawana Andrews has been teaching health science students how to deliver culturally-safe healthcare to the Indigenous people they might come across in their practice. She says the principles to be applied constitute best-practice healthcare: at heart, they are an honest attempt to imagine what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Andrews suggests an attitude of humility is a good place to start. Providing good healthcare to an Indigenous person “doesn’t mean knowing everything about their culture”, but rather, acknowledging the diversity of Indigenous peoples and understanding your own biases and position in relation to Indigenous Australia.
It also helps if the health practitioner understands that their own world view is “absolutely subjective”. In parallel, it may be useful to remember that their Indigenous client may have a different perspective on healthcare, and may well be feeling “pretty vulnerable” when they turn up at a clinic.
She has found that some students are open to her approach, while others are resistant. Her preference when teaching is to emphasise the strength and knowledge of Indigenous people, with storytelling playing an important part.
Different cultures have different ways of knowing. What we teach here is not the whole world, so we need to teach our students to be reflexive, critical thinkers.
The Melbourne School of Health Sciences launched a new Indigenous curriculum framework, Many Ways Learning, in June this year. Andrews says the aim is to embed Indigenous issues into health science courses, not to tack them on as an optional extra. But, she adds, “we are not there yet”. Her ambition is for her health science graduates to have the tools to be “change agents”, so that they can contribute to improving Indigenous health.
Andrews teaches across the six health departments within her school – nursing, physiotherapy, social work, audiology, speech pathology and optometry. She is also working on a PhD, researching Aboriginal women who have experienced domestic violence and how cultural practices, including storytelling, “can be a protective factor”.
The number of Indigenous health students at the University is small, only 11 master’s students in health sciences, for instance. She says one way to attract more might be to take a workforce development approach and map study/career pathways that the University can offer Indigenous students while they are still at senior high school. Once they are enrolled, Murrup Barak, the Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development, provides support and community leadership, as does the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, particularly mentoring and network assistance.
She would like more Indigenous academics to be trained and employed by the University – not only for the benefit of Indigenous students, but also to enrich the perspectives offered by the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences as a whole. Different cultures have different ways of knowing, she says. “What we teach here is not the whole world, so we need to teach our students to be reflexive, critical thinkers.”