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Health workforce development must target career pathways

Professor Jennene Greenhill (Flinders), Professor Rose McEldowney (CDU), Professor Dean Carson and Professor Sarah Strasser (Flinders). Photo courtesy of Pascale Dettwiller

Professor Jennene Greenhill (Flinders), Professor Rose McEldowney (CDU),
Professor Dean Carson and Professor Sarah Strasser (Flinders).
Photo courtesy of Pascale Dettwiller

The need to put more effort and resources into building up an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce was highlighted during the recent National Rural Health Conference in Adelaide, where the principals of a Lowitja Institute-funded project hosted a workshop aimed at further refining their current research.

The two-year Flexible Pathways project began in August 2012 after the original research proposal was identified as a priority during a Workforce Roundtable hosted by the Institute in September 2011. Led by Flinders University’s Professor Dean Carson, it aims to encourage greater participation by Australia’s First Peoples in the health workforce by developing strategies based around flexible career paths.

About 25 people attended the workshop held on 7 April 2013, where they listened to a variety of presentations from the project team and others, as well as participating in an exchange of views and experiences around workforce development.

Professor Carson presented evidence that the current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce is undervalued, not diverse enough and is having difficulty retaining qualified people. He said research suggested that workforce development to date had largely been about ‘jobs not careers’, and that this needed to change by integrating mentoring systems and continuous education to foster long-term careers.

Professor Rose McEldowney from Charles Darwin University argued for the expansion of career choices beyond ‘Indigenous health positions’, saying that careers aren’t necessarily assisted by keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in a box separate to the health system as a whole. 

Kim O’Donnell, a research program leader at the Lowitja Institute whis also studying a Doctorate of Public Health at Flinders, described her personal journey through a number of different careers and how this had led her to recognise the importance of long-term mentors and supervisors.

Courtney Ryder, also from Flinders University, recorded a workshop presentation that focused on lessons learned from the university’s Northern Territory Medical Program. She said learnings included the need to take into account the life circumstances and challenges facing Aboriginal people while training and working, and how involving families and communities in the process helped create a safer and more accommodating environment for workforce participation.

The group session following the presentations yielded a number of interesting ideas, which included introducing primary school children to the potential of health careers, encouraging community ownership of health workforces as well as health services, and greater attention to the allied health workforce and its contribution.

The Flexible Career Pathways project is part of the Lowtja Institute’s Enabling Policy and Systems research program and program leaders would like to thank project team members Dr Jillian Marsh and Professor Jennene Greenhill for organising the workshop.

Created: 07 May 2013 - Updated: 05 December 2017