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‘Racism makes us sick’: First Nations leader on tackling discrimination in healthcare

07 Mar 2023

Associate Professor Carmen Parter had always dreamed of being a nurse. But, when she began in the 1980’s, the profession had few other faces like hers, and the notion of a culturally safe healthcare system was almost non-existent. 

Key points
  • Associate Professor Carmen Parter joins Taking care to discuss the impact of racism in healthcare.
  • She points to her nursing days when there were almost no Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander faces working on the hospital ward and very little time given to the health needs of Indigenous people.
  • She talks about the cultural safety work being done and the challenges to make these policies a reality in our healthcare system. 

In the decades since, the proud descendent of the Darumbal and Juru clans of the Birra Gubba Nation with South Sea Islander heritage has seen and helped lead sweeping changes across Australia’s healthcare system, but Assoc. Prof. Parter knows the most important lessons still need to be learned.

In the latest Taking care podcast Assoc.Prof. Parter shares experiences from the beginning of her career and, above all, her continuing hope that things are improving to make Australia’s healthcare system culturally safe and free of racism.

‘There weren’t many black faces in the hospital at that time,’ she told Taking Care host, Tash Miles.

‘At that time in the 80s, there was nothing about Aboriginal health, nothing talking about communities’ needs or their health needs.

‘Cultural safety around that time probably wasn’t a word that was used … certainly health services delivery was not good.’

Today Assoc. Prof. Parter holds many roles, such as a Fellow of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Congress of Nurses and Midwives and the Public Health Association of Australia, including an Ahpra Board member, co-Founder and Director at the Learning Centre for Systemic Change and Research, and a member of the Lowitja Institute member community. She also works part-time at Djurali of Macquarie University.

Assoc. Prof. Parter has also seen intentional and unintentional racism in the system, which she is committed to helping reform.

'Racism makes us sick. Discrimination of all forms impacts the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’ she said.

'We've seen it. We’ve felt it. But now we actually have evidence to demonstrate that is the case, and it is now time for health policymakers and services to actually do something about discrimination or prejudiced practices in the workplace.’

In her work on Indigenous health and as a member of the Ahpra Board, Assoc. Prof. Parter is rolling out culturally safe policies across health and calling all to walk with her while tackling racism.

'It's a big agenda for Ahpra now to really think about how do we do this and what is required to do this, and really put aside what you think needs to be done, but rather walk with us and address this, learn about what has to happen,’ Assoc. Prof. Parter said.

'The biggest change is in the area of cultural safety. Even in my time when I started in the 80s, even 10 years ago, we couldn't talk about racism.’

'And the cultural safety framework is the framework to address racism in the healthcare system.'

Listen to the full episode here.

The full transcript is also available.

Did you know?

The Taking care podcast series offers professional and consumer perspectives on current issues and answers some frequently asked questions about public safety in healthcare. Download and listen to the latest Taking care episode today. You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking care’ in your podcast player.

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Page reviewed 7/03/2023