Tamika takes on the gap

Work

Closing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health gap requires a deep understanding of the health challenges communities in Australia face. Endorsed Enrolled Nurse Tamika Elvin of Queensland’s Princess Alexandra Hospital knows this well; her family are Guringai-wonnarua people in the Hunter Valley, and she has worked on the frontline as a nurse in these communities.

 

Motivated to help improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Tamika attended the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) national conference with support from HESTA, as a key action of our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Here Tamika shares her insights on what needs to be done to help close the health gap.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

My motivation came from my family and my husband. My husband suggested I should apply for a nursing course; my family is full of nurses and my grandfather did a lot for Aboriginal adolescents in mental health.

What was it that triggered your awareness of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health gap in Australia?

My Aunty (a nurse practitioner) and grandfather (now passed) have both done a lot of work to help close the gap. Their work raised my awareness of the importance of close the gap programs.

As an Aboriginal nurse, what do you think are the biggest challenges impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Australia?

The biggest challenges are location, funds, access to health care and socioeconomic disadvantage. A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  Australians still live in rural and remote areas, where there is usually limited access to health care. Funds and support are lacking in these areas where they need to be a priority. It is not just Aboriginal people that are affected by funding cuts but all Australians. Just because people choose to live in remote areas or because Aboriginal people choose to live on their sacred land doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive the same health care as those who live in suburban areas or in the city. 

Aboriginal people are let down time after time by the health care system. Aboriginal medical services around the country continue to be closed down or funding is cut so resources are taken away. I recently did a placement at an Aboriginal Medical Service where the chronic diseases clinic, which did house calls, was scrapped.

Following this I witnessed how an Aboriginal community reacts when there is a big change. Key members of the health care team were no longer working there and the nurse practitioner had been away. This greatly affected the community; patients stopped coming into the clinic, resulting in patient numbers being at an all-time low, putting people’s health at risk.

When the nurse practitioner returned to work, the patients came back because they knew and trusted her — and she, like them, is Aboriginal.

What do you think needs to be done to help close the Indigenous health gap in Australia?

We need increased health education, especially for people living in rural and remote areas. There also need to be more Indigenous health workers, nurses and midwives in addition to more job opportunities for these positions.

The Aboriginal community also needs to start caring about their health. It’s all well and good for us to get the above things into practice but there needs to be teamwork on both ends. With the help of rural and remote communities the word will spread, and the younger generation will care about their own health as well as their children’s.

You were sponsored by HESTA to attend the 2017 Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) national conference. What did you get out this experience? 

I’m really thankful to HESTA for the great opportunity to attend the CATSINaM 2017 conference.

I got a lot of knowledge on how important our people’s health care is and how Australia is lacking in education about our health. Dr Chris Sarra really inspired me and taught me a lot.

I also learnt what areas of Aboriginal health care are lacking and as a mental health nurse (studying for my bachelor of nursing to further my nursing career) this gave me the ambition and passion to go further with mental health.

Your attendance at the conference was part of an initiative in the HESTA RAP. What role do you think corporate organisations and industry partnerships have in helping to close the Indigenous health gap?

The more big organisations are a part of closing the gap, the more Aboriginal people will know that we are here to help. It is also a good way to help show it is time to move forward and stop living in the past. It is 2017 and help is here: we need to unite to close the gap and make our voices heard.

Through your work as a nurse how do you plan on using your knowledge to help close the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health gap?

By furthering my own education about Aboriginal health and mental health, I’ll be able to pass my knowledge onto the people I work with and work united to close the gap. There are only so many Aboriginal nurses and doctors out there, so we need to work with everyone in the health care system. We’re all in our jobs to help people, no matter what age, gender or race. 

Supporting reconciliation

Our RAP is the cornerstone of our commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Find out what we're doing to help close the gap.

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