The role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers is poorly understood, despite their important work in Closing the Gap, the NACCHO Summit heard today.

However, a range of multimedia resources to help improve understanding has been developed by the Rural Health Education Foundation.

The resources (available here) aim to raise the profession’s profile, foster greater respect for their role, and contribute to improved inter-professional relationships, according to RHEF CEO Helen Craig.

You can get a sense of the resources from this clip illustrating the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and the contributions they make.


The resources were developed after the Health Workforce Australia “Growing Our Future” report highlighted a range of barriers to this workforce achieving their potential.

Ms Craig cited the report’s finding that “a growing body of evidence links the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker workforce to improved health outcomes in diabetes care, mental health care, maternal and infant care, and palliative care”.

Some key issues highlighted in the report:

· The lack of a nationally consistent understanding of the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and their scope of practice.

· Varying levels of respect, recognition and support shown to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers by other health professionals and employers.

Croakey asked Ms Craig to identify the most important remaining barriers.

She said:

“There needs to be more done within the curricula to ensure all healthcare professionals understand the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander health workers, their unique cultural skills and understanding, and the importance of having this within the health team,

Many of Australia’s First People’s find it difficult or daunting to access mainstream health services, or to connect with a non-indigenous health provider.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers help bridge this gap.  They are able to bring the services into the community and to connect the community with the services.

A poll held during the live panel program highlighted that 35% of health teams where the audience members worked did not have any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Health Workers.

A further 43% stated that where there were some in the team, they weren’t fully utilised. The main reason put forward, by half of the respondents, was the lack of recognition of cultural expertise being required.

Employers need to recognise that this role is vital to closing the health gap. More Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander health workers need to be employed, and to be able to work in a culturally safe workplace.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and so we hope that these resources will aid employers in understanding the need to change this and stop the burn out of this workforce.

We urge people to use these resources and videos, and to encourage others to use them, and we hope that making these widely and freely available will help contribute to this passionate and committed workforce being recognised and valued, as they deserve to be.”

The RHEF resources include a documentary, A Unique Profession, a clip of a live panel discussions and filmed case-studies and interviews, and an online and printable Learning Guide, providing self-directed in-depth education.

The Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) Network has worked with REHF to develop eight short video training clips, to embed them in their teaching resources.

Ms Craig added: “This has been a significant and very valuable project that over the coming years will continue to help address the issues highlighted in the HWA ‘Growing Our Future’ report.”


 For previous Croakey reports from the Summit

Improving the lives of disabled people in remote communities: case study from Warburton

The road to Closing the Gap may be turning a corner

• “Absolutely awesome” tweet reporting from NACCHO Summit 

• Prof Ngiare Brown on the cultural determinants of health

• Previewing the summit and some suggestions for Q and A


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