by Andrea Simpson and Kim Alley
The education of medical and allied healthcare students in culturally safe practice has gained traction in recent years with the release of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Curriculum Framework in 2014. Universities Australia built on this work with its 2019 publication, Good Practice Principles for Course Accreditation and Review of Indigenous Curriculum in 2019.
This policy push was before the pandemic hit. In the wake of the rapid changes to university healthcare curricula during COVID-19 has cultural safety been left behind?
We were interested to hear the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students completing studies in healthcare fields during COVID-19. This question was part of a larger project examining the accessibility of allied health programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that has been conducted under an Equity Fellow program funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.
Students reported that the advent of the pandemic presented several challenges in relation to their participation, completion of course work, and ability to study. Several of these align with the experiences of many students undergoing remote teaching, with studying on-line resulting in increased workloads and peer isolation. The significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students based regionally or remotely also face a challenge to access reliable internet.
Participants also report a concern with synchronous and/or asynchronous lectures becoming the norm for content delivery. There had been no time for content to be adapted in a culturally safe format for the on-line environment, and students were disappointed to find limited instances of First Nations authors, guest speakers, and literature.
Given the move to distance learning, education providers must consider ways of incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and knowledges into on-line content, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and perspectives wherever possible.
To do so is a critical first step towards assuring cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, whilst also enhancing a sense of belonging and providing the practical supports necessary for student success and completion.
Dr Andrea Simpson is a 2020 National Centre Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellow and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, School of Allied Health, Human Services, and Sport at La Trobe University
Kim Alley is an Adjunct Research Officer in the School of Allied Health, Human Services, and Sport at La Trobe University.