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

Closing the Gap: Cultural Safety in Indigenous Health Education

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

Closing the Gap: Cultural Safety in Indigenous Health Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 2009, it was acknowledged by the Australian Government that the gap between life expectancy, child mortality, educational achievement and employment outcomes of Indigenous Australians 'has not decreased over the past decade or more' (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009, para. 1). It was also recognised that the challenge for the future is how to close this gap. It is argued that education, health and economic status are interrelated, with education recognised as a 'key factor in improving the health and well-being of Indigenous Australians' (Pink & Allbon, 2008, p. 15). However, culturally safe health education programs for Indigenous students are crucial if we are to bring about signifi cant improvements in contemporary Indigenous health care (Goold, Turale, Miller, & Usher, 2002).

Several authors report that, while the participation rates of Indigenous students in tertiary education are increasing, attrition rates are signifi cantly higher than that of the general student population (Balatti, Gargano, Goldman, Wood, & Woodlock, 2004; Boulton-Lewis, Marton, Lewis, & Wilss, 2000; Bourke, Burden, & Moore, 1996; DiGregorio, Farrington, & Page, 2000; Dyson & Robertson, 2006; Malcolm & Rochecouste, 2002; Saunders, Jones, Bowman, Loveder, & Brooks, 2003). Studies have investigated barriers faced by Indigenous students in their transition to the tertiary education system. Malcolm and Rochecouste (2002) interviewed past and present Indigenous students to identify barriers to their success within the university environment. They spoke of six barriers: adjustment to a new and foreign environment and new ways of learning; acknowledgement and understanding of Indigenous knowledge and culture; the value placed on university study and its uncertain link to employment; lack of knowledge of academic expectations and the challenges these expectations present; expectations placed on Indigenous students as representatives of their communities; and racism. Further barriers to tertiary education identifi ed by Indigenous students include a lack of family members who have participated in tertiary education, lack of role models, geographical barriers and a lack of information (Adams et al., 2005; Balatti et al., 2004; DiGregorio et al., 2000; Kippen, Ward, & Warren, 2006; Usher, Lindsay, Miller, & Miller, 2005). Similar barriers were identifi ed in Goold's 1995 study (cited in Goold et al., 2002, pp. 21-22) into Indigenous nurse education. Barriers identifi ed in this study included isolation, racism, fear of being expected to speak on behalf of others, not wanting to disappoint others through failure, a lack of educational preparation and educators' lack of understanding of Indigenous learning styles and lack of fl exibility. Boulton-Lewis et al. (2000, pp. 410-411) argued that the learning needs of Indigenous students have not been adequately addressed. They noted that 'not enough consideration is given to cultural elements in courses' and made specifi c reference to a lack of prerequisite study skills and Indigenous students not knowing 'how to go about learning' in the tertiary environment. Charles Sturt University (CSU) (2009) retention and attrition data identify the fi rst year of study as critical to the transition of Indigenous students to the tertiary environment.

This paper focuses on a unique degree program in the fi eld of mental health that is offered exclusively to Indigenous students in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health at Charles Sturt University and examines, through an exploratory study, the strengthening of a culturally safe environment that supports students in their transition to this tertiary education program. The aim of this study was to, through the student voice, discover, develop and evaluate strategies that promote resilience and well-being, and address retention rates of Indigenous students as they transition to university study. …

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