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Tips for making the most of the Aboriginal Health Worker and Practitioner workforce

How can the health sector make best use of the skills and contributions of Aboriginal Health Workers and Health Practitioners?

It’s a timely question given the recent release of the 2018 Closing the Gap report, and the Closing the Gap Campaign’s 10-year review of the strategy.

Some suggestions follow below from Karl Briscoe, CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA), and Alyson Wright, policy officer with the Association, and researcher with National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University.


Karl Briscoe and Alyson Wright write:

All who work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health know about the vital role of Health Workers and Health Practitioners.

Karl Briscoe
Karl Briscoe

They are the link between the community and medical worlds. They are the faces of optimism and hope despite the challenges and burden of ill health.

They use language, cultural and social networks and knowledge to communicate effectively with clients. They are the providers and trainers in delivering culturally competent health care to community members and clients.

Enabling appropriate and culturally safe health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is critical, and this means building an appropriate and capable workforce.

Currently, members of this unique workforce are found in a great diversity of health roles, including not only clinical service delivery of primary health care, but in preventive health, allied health and rehabilitation, public health, chronic disease management and palliative care.

So, what can we do to ensure these roles are nurtured, fostered, expanded and supported in health care settings?

Here are a few ideas for the health sector

1. Define the scope of practice for Health Workers or Health Practitioners in the workplace

Aboriginal Health Workers and Health Practitioners routinely exercise extended practices that reflect community and service needs, often informally developed while working alongside other practitioners.

A ‘formalised’ scope of practice establishes an individual’s practices, contributions and value adds in the workplace and reduces ambiguity about where the responsibility lies.

The scope of practice is defined by individual circumstances and is based on their training, qualifications, service requirements, supervision available and job responsibilities and role. It also is influenced by jurisdictional health care legislation and therefore should be a tailored document for an individual or group in the workplace.

NATSIHWA has recently launched a national framework to guide workplaces and services in developing Health Workers and Practitioners’ scope of practice.

The Framework describes key elements required to develop a scope of practice and provides practical steps and a template for Managers and Health Workers to work through in establishing their scope of practice.

Better definition of an employee’s scope of practice helps everyone in the workplace, and secures greater confidence and capabilities in the workforce. Staff at NATSIHWA can help people work through the development of a scope of practice.

2. Tap into NATSIHWA 2018 Regional Forums and October Professional Development Symposium

Opportunities to build and expand professional networks and develop skills and capabilities is recognised as important.

Every year NATSIHWA hosts regional forums across Australia to support and develop our workforce. Typically these forums are for members and other Health Workers and Health Practitioners, although others may be invited to participated or present.

These forums are developed based on local priorities and provide networking and professional development opportunities for Health Workers and Health Practitioners.

A 2018 calendar of forums is being finalised, so have a look at upcoming dates and locations, and register your interest in attending. If you have ideas or suggestions for these, please contact NATSIWHA now.

Further, planning has already started for the 2018 NATSIHWA Professional Development Symposium to be held in Alice Springs in October this year. This event is a not to be missed opportunity to brush up on your skills and expertise in key health care areas.

3. Encourage Health Workers and Health Practitioners to register on the NATSIHWA portal

For a health professional, building and maintain qualifications and skills set are mandatory, as is recording your continuing professional development (CPD) hours. NATSIHWA has created an online tool to help Health Workers and Health Practitioners keep a track the professional development activities.

The portal is online resource that helps Health Workers and Health Practitioners store professional development activities and accreditation details. It also updated regularly with training opportunities and relevant news. It allows Health Workers and Health Practitioners to keep track of CPD hours. All our members have the opportunity to register for the NATSIHWA portal.

4. Use models of care that embed Health Worker or Health Practitioners at the CORE

We have heard a lot over the past couple of years about the most appropriate model of care for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. It necessary to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and practitioners in core roles of delivering health care for culturally safe service provision.

Other issues to resolve this year

Finally, there are other administrative issues that Health Workers and Health Practitioners are also hoping will be resolved in 2018. These include:

  • A decision on the Health Worker/Practitioner new award. From 2015-16, NATSIHWA and other stakeholders have been involved in negotiations on Health Worker Award with the Australian Fairwork Commission. We are hoping the final decision will be announced over the next 12 months.
  • Greater allocation of resources and funding for more Health Workers and Health Practitioners across the health sector, including not only in the community-controlled sector but also hospitals, general practices and other health services.
  • Resourced action on social and cultural determinants of health.

We need Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Health Practitioners right across the health sector. Just as we need Indigenous doctors, Indigenous allied health staff, and Indigenous nurses in the sector.

Making, developing and defining their role in health services builds effectiveness and efficacy in services, better enables cultural safe care to be practiced and is more responsive to needs of clients.

• Karl Briscoe is Chief Executive Officer for NATSIHWA.

• Alyson Wright is Policy Officer with NATSIHWA, and Researcher with National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University.

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Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
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#cphce2016
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2017 conferences
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#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
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#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
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#LivingOurWay
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#OTCC2017
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Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences