Today marks the five-year anniversary of the establishment of Griffith University’s First Peoples Health Unit (FPHU). We sat down with Professor Roianne West, the Director of First Peoples Health, to discuss the last five years and give us some insight into what the future holds.  

What was the vision for the First Peoples Health Unit when you first began? 

The vision for the Group was to: 

  • Increase the number of First Peoples staff and students 
  • Increase engagement with indigenous health, indigenous groups in South East Queensland and nationally.  
  • Be a central point for contact for the Health Group for all matters relating to First Peoples health.  

It was established on the goals of leadership, learning and teaching, research, engagement and international recognition. We estimated there to be 20 years of work in our original strategic plan, but nothing was left out to show our vision, our possibilities, and our capability.  

What are your key highlights from the last five years? 

We’ve achieved so much, but there are three real standouts for me: 

  • Firstly, we were one of the first in Australia to create this type of unit which brought with it the pressure of being labelled a national leader which was not intentional.  
  • The Health Group showed there were visible possibilities based on the silos of work being done but it needed to be cohesive, being able to pull people together for a more interdisciplinary approach to First Peoples health with a much greater impact.  
  • As one of the first universities in Australia to create a First Peoples Health Unit, we were optimistic of success and buoyed by belief bestowed on us from the Health Group through the unit’s funding from within. It was a very strategic, interdisciplinary move at the university to truly make an impact, to take ownership accountability and a truly shared responsibility for First Peoples health. 

What are you most proud of in the last 5 years? 

The first few years focused on establishing FPHU by building internal credibility with the remaining years committed to creating change that firmly embedded the unit within Griffith’s systems, procedures and the culture of the Health Group to ensure long term success and sustainability.  

I’m probably most proud of the sheer volume of engagement with community. One of the things I originally said to Allan Cripps (PVC Health at the time) was that if I accepted the position, I wanted to make sure we spent time in the Aboriginal health service and the hospital, to have it genuinely responding to community. I negotiated with Allan to have a significant engagement component for the Group to be truly reflective of the local community needs. We’ve put Griffith on the map not only for engagement, but we now have a sub-plan just for engagement to make sure we’re doing it systemically and strategically. This means we don’t oversaturate the resources in the community and gives us a much more coordinated approach. Again, that plan is one of the first of its kind in the country.  

On top of what we have achieved as a Group, by far the greatest honour I have had was working with the Brisbane aboriginal health service to award Aunty Pamela Mam an honorary doctorate. To be able to recognise her contribution to nursing and to aboriginal health using the university system was one of the greatest honours in my role.  

What do the next five years hold? 

In 2019 FPHU received a $1.2 million grant to develop cultural safety training for all the state and territory staff within the Australian Health Professionals Regulatory Agency (AHPRA), with the potential to influence all health professionals registered with AHPRA. This is a significant recognition of our credibility in the field at a relatively early stage of establishment. It is also shifting the research agenda into focus and how we do First Peoples training, which is a big point of difference for Griffith.  

We’re about to launch a national research project Yuwan Gulgan (YG) study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Safety Education and Training. The purpose of the study is to improve safety and quality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Safety Health Practitioner education and training through an Indigenous Research lens. 

The YG was conceptualised in 2015 when I led a team that developed and validated the Cultural Capability Measurement Tool (CCMT) in accordance with the ATSIHCF. This tool has since been enhanced. Now called Ganngaleh nga Yagaleh (GY), it assesses the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health cultural safety education and training innovations and is aligned with the AHPRA definition of cultural safety. We have 26 university and industry partners nationally.  This is a robust platform on which we will direct our focus at both national and international level.  

Increasing the number of First Peoples students in health programs at Griffith University brings a complex set of intertwined influences using research and evidence, building relationships through community engagement, and comparative modelling with international First Peoples health. This takes perseverance to simplify all of this to get traction in the university system – our model is anything but simple and doesn’t fit neatly in the system. We are informing best practice in First Peoples health and best practice in higher education for First Peoples.  

How can students engage with the FPHU? 

There’s this peer network and modelling role I have for the students. I show them about the possibility, that their completing a degree is a great achievement but not the end point. I want them to be leaders and to see what that looks like. It is in more recent times I’ve realised that there are a lot of young people who are watching what we say and how we manage responsibility and leadership.  

I’m often the first Indigenous Professor they’ve even seen who can relate to them which is important to remember as a role model and the impact it can have on the First Peoples students. The establishment of the First Peoples Health Unit gives these students an identity, a pride, one they may not have seen elsewhere, so it’s aspirational, it keeps them engaged and focussed when things get challenging, inside and outside the university or when they feel like it’s all too much. We can be that beacon of light in the distance that says, “You are remarkable, keep going, you can do it”. 

The First Peoples Health Unit provides high level leadership and strategic direction on First People’s health in the areas of learning and teaching, research and engagement. It is committed to closing the gap in health outcomes by improving the cultural capability of Australia’s health workforce through quality education and training. Visit our website to discover the range of services for students and outputs from the FPHU.