Students studying for a Master of Public Health (MPH) qualification at the University of Melbourne (UM) and the University of Queensland (UQ) are now able to specialise in Indigenous health, thanks to support from the Lowitja Institute. And the hope is that this ‘specialist stream’ will soon be available to students studying at other Australian universities.
The MPH postgraduate program is recognised by the health industry generally as the standard training award for licensing health professionals for public health and community practice. However, until this year only a small number of specialist Indigenous units have been available for students to choose from at their individual universities, and never enough to make up a specialist stream.
Over the past two years a project team led by Leanne Coombe from the Onemda VicHealth Koori Health Unit, part of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Health and Society, has been working with the University of Queensland to combine their separate Indigenous units into a specialist stream. A trial of the new specialist stream began in the first semester of 2012 and both universities have signed a Memorandum of Understanding giving effect to the new cross-institutional enrolment model.
‘This project actually emerged from a feasibility study funded back in 2008 by the CRC for Aboriginal Health, which recommended the development of an Indigenous specialist stream,’ Ms Coombe says. ‘So it’s great that we’ve reached this point.
‘What the partnership means is that any MPH student at either of the two universities can now choose from five Indigenous units, three of them developed by UM and two developed by UQ, with another unit being added by UQ later this year. We’re monitoring the partnership arrangement to confirm its effectiveness but the early signs are good.
‘Ultimately our goal is to expand the collaboration to include other universities, so that we can offer a truly nationally accessible MPH specialisation in Indigenous health.’
The three units developed by UM include ‘Indigenous Health and History’, ‘Indigenous Health: From Data to Practice’, and ‘Indigenous Health Management & Leadership’. Both of the final two UM units were developed last year with an eye to implementing a specialist Indigenous stream.
UQ brings to the table ‘Issues in Indigenous Health’ and ‘Substance Use & Misuse Among Indigenous Communities’, with a third unit – ‘Indigenous Health Policy’ – set to be made available for this year’s summer semester.
‘Until now we’ve only ever had small numbers studying the Indigenous health units, as there was no attraction to do it given you couldn’t specialise in Indigenous health,’ Ms Coombe says.
‘Since the start of this year we’ve doubled the number of students doing these units and we anticipate an even greater pick up once we start marketing the new partnership later this year.’