Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

The Impact of a Postgraduate Diabetes Course on the Perceptions Aboriginal Health Workers and Supervisors in South Australia

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

The Impact of a Postgraduate Diabetes Course on the Perceptions Aboriginal Health Workers and Supervisors in South Australia

Article excerpt


Type 2 diabetes is a major cause of morbidity and premature mortality in the Aboriginal population. Common causes are cardiac, eye and renal disease, and cerebrovascular accidents (Dunning 2003). Significantly, Aboriginal people with diabetes die between 19-21 years earlier than non-Indigenous individuals with this chronic disease (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2004; 2005). This statistic is in strong contrast to other countries whose Indigenous people have also been colonised by Europeans, for example Canada. Unlike Australia, Canada has seriously addressed the diabetes health status of their First Nation People and in doing so, have greatly increased their life expectancy to now be six years less than their non-Indigenous counterpart (Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council 2004). One of the ways that this has been achieved in Canada is by enabling their Indigenous health workers to undertake specialised training in diabetes (World Health Organization 1986; 1997;Yellowquill College 2005).

In Australia, Indigenous health workers are known as Aboriginal health workers (AHW). This term has been defined by the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council to mean 'primary health care providers ... their work is essential to the effective implementation of health policies'. The aim of this health professional is to provide the 'first point of contact with all clients and other health professionals (especially in remote areas) ... are responsive for the initial diagnosis and for referring the client to other health care providers (e.g. nurses, doctors or hospitals)' (AHMAC 1994: 11).

In an attempt to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people with type 2 diabetes, the South Australian Aboriginal Health Partnership and several local Aboriginal health services funded thirty one AHW to undertake the postgraduate diabetes course offered by Flinders University between 1998 and 2001. The first and second cohorts attended a continuing education course known as the Diabetes Educators Course in 1998 and 1999. This course was later upgraded to a Graduate Certificate in Health: Diabetes Management and Education in 2000 and attended by the third cohort of AHW.

Both diabetes courses were developed primarily for registered nurses and allied health professionals seeking qualifications as diabetes educators. The decision to also include AHW posed a potential problem to faculty because the educational preparation of AHW is not conducted at the level of an undergraduate degree. Hence, it was believed that this group may experience difficulties coping with the academic requirements of a postgraduate course and therefore, not meet their learning needs. However, as this was the only specialist diabetes course available to AHW in South Australia at this time this educational initiative was considered worthwhile.


In Australia as is the case with other western countries, health professionals wanting to specialise in the care of people with diabetes are advised to first undertake specialist diabetes training. The organisation for promoting this process in Australia is the Australian Diabetes Educators Association (ADEA) based in Canberra. Important goals of this organisation are to ensure that all Australians with diabetes receive care that is consistent with contemporary diabetes management and that health professionals have access to accredited ADEA courses that will equip them with the skills and knowledge to effectively care for people with this chronic disease (Australian Diabetes Educators Association 2005).

Contemporary diabetes health care uses the principles of primary health care and health promotion by increasing community awareness of the need to eat a healthy diet, take regular physical activity and be vigilant about controlling weight and blood pressure. It also includes conducting programs to facilitate the early detection of diabetes by public screening and the use of evidence based practices to manage the condition effectively (Bate & Jerums 2003). …

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