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New research — Improve Indigenous access to healthcare professions for community wellbeing

Attracting more Indigenous students to healthcare professions has been recommended to improve health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

A new report by National Centre for Student equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellow Dr Andrea Simpson calls for stronger links between vocational and higher education to promote Indigenous participation in healthcare study.

“Indigenous people are less likely to use mainstream healthcare facilities, for reasons including cultural misunderstanding, which may be mitigated by the increased engagement of Indigenous health professionals,” Dr Simpson said.

“This study found less than one per cent of medical professionals and allied healthcare professionals identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.”

Dr Simpson employed data analysis, surveys, and interviews to investigate the national profile of Indigenous students enrolled in select higher education allied health study, as well as institutional factors linked with success in access and retention.

The report noted Indigenous students made up less than two per cent of the Australian domestic student population in higher education and were substantially less likely to complete their studies than their non-Indigenous peers.

In contrast, the research found that Indigenous representation in vocational education and training (VET) was higher and completion rates in vocational healthcare qualifications were equivalent to the general student population.

“For the larger professions of social work and psychology, Indigenous students were seen to use previous VET qualifications as a means of admission into allied health study, although few students generally transitioned from VET to higher education,” Dr Simpson said.

“Improved partnerships between the VET sector and higher education providers, and credit transfer arrangements for VET qualifications aligning with allied health curricula would support higher degree participation among Indigenous students.”

Of the healthcare professions examined in the study, the only significant growth in Indigenous enrolment share over the past decade was in the larger professions of social work and psychology.

Future growth in Indigenous enrolment in higher education allied healthcare programs could be improved by strategic expansion of course offerings into regional areas, and the provision of online and part-time study options.

NCSEHE Director Professor Sarah O’Shea noted the whole-of-community benefits from increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in healthcare study.

“This research illustrates the ‘ripple effect’ of higher education and the importance of supporting students to succeed in professions that can benefit themselves as well as their families and communities,” Professor O’Shea said.

“Dr Simpson notes that Indigenous participation and success must be supported at all levels, providing practical recommendations for universities, government, professional healthcare bodies and academic course convenors.”

Dr Simpson’s Equity Fellowship was supported by La Trobe University and conducted under the NCSEHE Equity Fellows Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Read the full report, Indigenous students’ journeys to and through allied healthcare programs

Posted 2 March 2022 Posted in