We recently brought together Griffith Health alumni in a virtual event to talk to us about the positive impacts on the health of the individual and the community when health staff and education have representation from marginalised groups. They shared their lived experiences with us through stories about providing healthcare to marginalised groups, creating equity of access to medical education, and why representation matters at all levels, from education to healthcare provision. Read on for a snapshot of their conversation.  

Blake Jones is a Birpai man, born in the Mid North Coast NSW town of Port Macquarie and, raised on the Gold Coast. He is currently working as a junior house officer in renal medicine in Toowoomba. He provides mentorship, pastoral care and study support for Griffith rural students and is mentor for the Toowoomba Hospital interns. Blake says that for him, representation is the visibility that comes with being an Aboriginal person. 

“I wear a couple of different hats in the hospital: with patients, among other staff, and also in medical education. Representation is having that voice in terms of influencing policy and having something to say from a typically marginalised perspective,” Blake says.  

“I consider myself really, really lucky – neither of my parents finished high school, no one in my family had done a university degree, and yet, for as long as I can remember, education was a massive emphasis from my parents. They really did everything they could to help me succeed and straight away that’s not something that every person is like lucky to have. 

“I think it’s safe to say once I made it into uni, there’s no way I would have made it through without the multitude of supports that I had access to. The GUMURRII Student Support Unit was an invaluable resource and ended up helping me with assignments and even just that opportunity to yarn when I was stressing out. I also had the First Peoples Health Unit which was relatively new at the time. And Professor Roianne West too was one of my biggest advocates all throughout my training at Griffith.” 

Ingrid Ozols is the founder and managing director of Melbourne-based mental health service Mental Health at Work, where she provides essential workplace and community mental health education and training. Ingrid says that in the field of mental healthcare delivery, having the lived experience she does allows her to role model hope and recovery to the people she works with.  

“I live and managed life with bipolar disorder. I have tried to take my life on several occasions – I’m suicide ideator. I have complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, bipolar disorder and binge eating disorder. But what I’ve seen is that with the right care – of which I’ve been a beneficiary of – there is so much to life, even through the ups and downs of managing challenges, and even more so now with COVID. But that lived experience can inform so much and offer so much richness to show that we are the stories behind the statistics,” Ingrid explains.  

“Representation for mental health in the workplace means helping workplaces create more mental health friendly workplaces. It is part of a duty of care for employers to have to look after the health and mental health and wellbeing of the employees in the workplace. It is their duty of care, but some organisations still struggling to get this right. 

Cassandra Nest is a proud Ngunnawal woman who grew up on the Yugembeh and Bundjalung Country on the Gold Coast and Northern NSW. She is an advocate for the creation of culturally safe birthing environments, and works at the forefront of building a culturally safe midwifery workforce in her joint role with Griffith University and Gold Coast University Hospital. 

“There’s a myriad of studies about what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women want when it comes to maternity care,” she says.  

“Cultural safety obviously is the biggest thing, but it’s important to acknowledge that in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture an individual’s relationship to the land and their kin group, name and totems are all attained through the pregnancy and birthing experience. Those important aspects are integral to our holistic view of health and dreaming and laws and set you up for where you sit within the community. Through understanding that our definition of health incorporates more than a Western worldview and includes not just the physical wellbeing, but also the social and emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community, you can sort of begin to understand the importance of providing culturally-safe care and what that means. 

“And when you’re not providing women with culturally-safe care, they’re less likely to engage in care and services, which then contributes to disparities in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people.” 

Dr Daniel Wilson has two areas of representation in his work and life, firstly as a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ representation in health, and secondly as a rural and regional practitioner. His lived experience as a cis-gendered gay man and his rural upbringing helped him focus his career in helping these two areas. 

“The core underpinning for both of these groups as to why they experience health inequity is the lack of access to available services,” he says. 

“For regional and rural Australians, that means that there’s not enough doctors in the area that can provide services and not enough other healthcare clinicians. For LGBTQ+A individuals the same applies in terms of the lack of access.  

“I think it’s self-evident that having the diversity amongst the education space in healthcare is vital. Increasing the level of representation in amongst the student cohort is so vital to then translate to the practising community of health practitioners, and it’s those individuals that bring diversity, whether it’s who they are or in their personality or the work that they do, we need those voices to help advocate for change in health curriculums and in health policy. 

“I’d implore anyone that identifies as having some form of diversity to not be shy, be proud of your diversity – it’s what makes you who you are, and we need you in health now more than ever. I might not look diverse, I’m as white as they come, but I come with a lot of hidden diversity, and by sharing that, I help it be seen. So, even if your diversity is not visible, share it and bring everyone on the journey with you.”