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  • Indigenous boost to nursing and allied health

    Author: Karen Keast

A new workforce development and research centre aims to grow the number of Indigenous graduates in nursing and allied health.

The University of Queensland’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, which opened this week, will also focus on the health of south-east Queensland’s urban Indigenous population - the largest Aboriginal community in Australia.

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UQ Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Education) Professor Cindy Shannon said the centre will train and develop a larger workforce in Indigenous health across nursing, medicine, public health, dentistry, pharmacy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, exercise physiology and psychology.

“The workforce agenda is for both pathways and aspiration building for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids into careers in health, as well as for all our non-Indigenous students doing health courses,” she said.

The centre’s programs will provide outreach and engagement with secondary school students and pathways into university health courses, provide professional mentoring and support, and assist Indigenous students into research and higher degrees.


The centre will also collaborate with primary health care and hospital providers to ensure career opportunities and placements for UQ students studying Indigenous health care.

The university, which provided the nation’s first professional degree program for Indigenous health workers in the 1990s and graduated the state’s first Indigenous doctor in 1991, has a strong commitment to Indigenous education, Professor Shannon said.

“We have partnered with the 16 clinics across south-east Queensland that form part of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health and we have an arrangement with them whereby they place University of Queensland students from our health disciplines for clinical and other project placements,” she said.

“That process is turning out to be an extremely valuable learning experience for the students as well as some early evidence that it is actually converting into employment after the students graduate.”

Professor Shannon, a descendent of the Ngugi people from Moreton Island, said while it’s important to increase the Indigenous health workforce, improving the health outcomes of Indigenous Australians is not an issue limited to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“On the one level you have people who argue that Indigenous people are best trained to look after Indigenous people and on another level we would argue that the entire health workforce should be work-ready to work amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

“It is the greatest public health issue for this country and if we are going to ‘close the gap’ we are not going to close it by just training Aboriginal workers.”

Professor Shannon said the centre’s south-east Queensland location is home to 38 per cent of the state’s Indigenous population.

Until recently, there has been little focus on understanding the needs of urban Indigenous Australians despite 79 per cent of the nation’s Indigenous population now living in non-remote areas, she said.

“The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health is very focused on urban Indigenous populations and the size of that population is projected to double in south-east Queensland over the next 15 years, according to ABS modelling,” she said.

“The single biggest input into the health system is a workforce and if we don’t plan a workforce according to those population projections, we are going to have problems.”

The UQ Poche Centre for Indigenous Health was established with a $10 million donation from Sydney couple Greg Poche and Kay van Norton Poche.

Mr Poche, the founder and former owner of logistics company Star Track Express, has also funded sister centres at the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, University of Western Australia, and at Flinders University in Adelaide and Alice Springs.


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords