After a long career as a schoolteacher, Henry Neill gravitated towards cultural education in the tertiary sector and Primary Health Networks in Queensland. Since 2017, he has worked in the role of cultural educator at JCU GP training.
What is the role of a cultural educator?
Cultural educators play an integral role in equipping GPiTs with the necessary engagement skills and knowledge to improve healthcare outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. At JCU, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural education is an integral part of the overall training of GPITs. There are a number of components of our training that are specifically developed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and of course a number of medical educators who have extensive experience in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
We divide the face-to-face cultural education training into two components. First, we talk about the history and how that history has influenced communities in our region. I believe we can’t teach about culture without first knowing about the history and its implications on the culture. Second, is cultural immersion, where we invite local community members to share their lived experience and facilitate a visit on Country. I plan this element of the training in consultation with local community. I usually do a pre-visit to each location and work with Traditional Owners and others, so the content is tailored to reflect the culture, history and current local issues in each region. This approach ensures GPs in training and staff are educated in the cultural side of things and the history of our mobs and how that history had and still has an effect on our health.
How do you work with cultural mentors to support GPiTs?
I am part of a community of practice with over 30 cultural mentors, who work in community controlled health services. There can be up to three or four cultural mentors in one service, with some employed by the health service in other roles. So, for example, the CEO of a health service in our patch is also a cultural mentor, because he believes that cultural mentoring for non-Indigenous staff is paramount. The cultural mentors are the gurus of the local community; they live in that community, they live it, they breathe it, they love it. The cultural awareness training that I facilitate and provide is never done without their knowledge and background because it's the right thing to do and because they are on the coalface and understand what works. The cultural mentor community of practice has been integral in producing our cultural mentor guide and log book, which is used by cultural mentors to provide specific cultural education and practice for GPiTs within their service.
Why are these roles such a critical component of general practice training?
It is a misassumption that only GPs that work in Aboriginal Medical Services will have clients who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Not to mention that not all people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ‘look’ indigenous. In rural and remote areas, in many instances, clients will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I can reinforce previous training, but I also get the opportunity to encourage GPiTs to unlearn some preconceived notions; for example, the fear of not knowing how to deal with our mob. We are a safe sounding board that will ask hard questions and respond [to hard questions].
What is your advice for those considering a career in rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health?
Never forget that all the clients you see are human beings first, regardless of their culture. Leave preconceived notions and beliefs at the gate. Be positive in the belief that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to grab it with both hands. Be patient and have an open mind to learning. Engage with the community, attend events and local places, walk down the street and be seen. Some of the conditions you will see in these areas you may not see in metropolitan areas and will make you a better practitioner. Being a good practitioner in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health makes you a good practitioner for everyone and that can’t be said for the reverse. Allow the community to support you in that growth.