What was your Fellowship focus, and what inspired you to apply?
I wanted to explore what preventative health programs were out there. At the time, I was working for Kidney Health Australia (KHA). Renal disease is devastating for our mob. We were doing some work with New Zealand which was highlighting similar experiences with Maori and Pasifika peoples. While I don’t have a clinical background, I wanted to know how to address and stop the flow to end Stage Kidney Disease here in Australia. I previously worked for the (former) Minister for Indigenous Health. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander renal disease was always a complex issue, which did not have a clear and definitive approach by Federal and State/Territory governments. One of my former colleagues was already working at KHA and asked if I wanted to make a difference. The opportunity to undertake the Churchill Fellowship came at a great time, when I was looking at strategic approaches.
Were there any stand out personal moments or challenges during your Fellowship?
What really struck me was the homelessness, poverty and drug problems in the US and Canada. I was interested in seeing how many of the First Nations primary health services were addressing kidney disease. Many of them were under-resourced and overworked dealing with very confronting issues.
In Hawaii, the poverty and homelessness was so apparent. There is like a dual economy of holiday tourists spending lots of money while other people go there to find work and get stuck and end up homeless, unemployed or underemployed and living on the streets and in the parks. When I walked along Waikiki Beach at sunset, you would see many of the homeless coming out to find a place to sleep, and to shower in the public amenities. All while the tourists are eating dinner in restaurants and then going back to their hotels.
In Seattle, Vancouver and Winnipeg, the drug problems were very apparent. I went to a meeting with one health organisation in Vancouver. When I left the building in the middle of the day, I walked past many homeless people living in tents under the freeway and people shooting up on the street. The lived experience is very powerful and left me speechless!
The benefit of the Fellowship of course is the personal face to face meetings, and also meeting people you had not planned for. For instance, in Winnipeg I ended up meeting two Canadian First Nations’ Elders, who introduced me to numerous valuable and fascinating people – all unplanned but highly beneficial. Overall, I found the Fellowship journey a wonderful experience and pretty seamless. The staff at the Churchill Trust are fantastic and were a great support!
What were you able to bring back to Australia? Has your focus changed since your returned?
After I completed my Fellowship, I returned to work for Kidney Health Australia. One of the key things that I worked on with the Menzies School of Health Research was to bring together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander renal patients from across Northern Australia. A forum was held with the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology annual symposium and was an opportunity to hear from renal patients about their concerns and what their wishes were. It was clear that all patients and their carers wanted to access dialysis closer to home. Many were from remote and very remote Aboriginal communities in WA, NT & QLD.
A report from that forum was developed and validated with all patients. The report was tabled with Minister Wyatt (Indigenous Health) and Minister Hunt (Health). A range of stakeholders supported the recommendations of the report for closer to home dialysis.
After much effort, Minister Hunt announced early this year that a new MBS item number would be established to enable dialysis care in remote communities. This is a game changer for our mob to be able to go home and be with family, on country and surrounded by culture.
I’m also currently involved in a research program funded over two years to look at Indigenous rights over our renal health and information. This program involves undertaking consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander renal patients about their experiences and what they want as a patient. This information will be used to inform the development of the KHA-CARI Guidelines to improve the quality of care and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Maori patients with kidney disease.
I remain really passionate about the importance of listening to and advocating the voices of our patients in all aspects of health care and culture.
I have since changed jobs. I’m now General Manager for Preventative Health / Deadly Choices at The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH). My focus is still on prevention, specifically on physical activity, nutrition, health screening, and in particular targeting young people. There’s estimated to be about 78,000 Indigenous people living in South East QLD. At IUIH, we have about 35,000 active clients on our books and about half of these have regular health checks.
The Deadly Choices program has recently received funding ($8m per year over 2 years) from Queensland Health to expand across the state. It’s an exciting challenge to get as many of our mob having health checks and looking after themselves.
I’m really quite proud of the work I’ve been able to do and been involved in since my Fellowship.
This year’s NAIDOC theme ‘Because of her, we can!’ celebrates the essential role that women have played – and continue to play – as active and significant role models at the community, local, state and national levels. What would you most like to celebrate?
I will be celebrating the strength and achievements of those women that have come before us – and those that will be the future – the untapped potential. Women are the backbones of our family and community. I’ve had very strong women in my family line; it’s what keeps your family together and it’s where you go for cultural advice. I am very grateful to have such strong role models and I want to thank them. My little niece is turning 4 this month and I want to be a good role model for her and to make sure she has even better opportunities than me. As an Indigenous woman, that is your role – to help and support the next generation.
Suggestions for other Indigenous women considering applying for a Churchill Fellowship
The Churchill Trust Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity that allows you to take time off for professional development and pursue something that you are very passionate about.
I definitely encourage all Indigenous women thinking about furthering their knowledge and experience to consider opporunites to expand. Your journey and insights are so valued and needed in today’s dialogue. It’s just about refining what you what to do – and making a plan!