Melanie Robinson grew up on the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in the bush community of Ngallagunda.
By the age of seven, the newly appointed CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) already knew she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her aunty and become a registered nurse.
“I just knew at seven years old that’s what I wanted to do,” she reflects.
“I wanted to help people. I wanted to help Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. I’m a very caring person and really go above and beyond for people and I wanted to be able to do that.
“I think nursing is a great career. It opens up a lot of doors and over the past 30 years having a nursing degree has taken me in so many wonderful directions.”
The latest part of the journey saw Robinson take over the reins from Janine Mohamed as CATSINaM’s new CEO in February.
Robinson, a Director of CATSINaM for the past three years, brings decades of experience from working clinically across a variety of settings, in nurse education, and most recently with Western Australia’s Department of Health tackling policy development.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity and I’m just genuinely delighted,” Robinson says.
“I actually didn’t think I’d get it [the job]. I guess it’s the Aboriginal thing, there’s always that self-doubt there. But I was over the moon.
She counts an Aboriginal leadership and development program run by the Department of Health that led to a six-month stint as the Director of Aboriginal Health in the Child and Adolescent Health Service in WA as the catalyst behind her stepping up to the next level and applying to become CATSINaM’s latest CEO.
“I’ve done vocational education and training. I’ve got a couple of university degrees so I know the university system and I’ve also got policy experience as well and obviously being a nurse on the ground,” she says of her broad experience.
“I just want to continue on the good work of CATSINaM. Obviously, Janine’s done an amazing job. Our membership’s grown astronomically. We’ve got a lot of contracts now and we’re doing lots of good work so I just want to continue that and maybe influence and carry on work in the education space, as well as lobbying government and implementing our Strategic Plan for 2018-2023.”
Robinson discovered CATSINaM in 2008 and considers joining the organisation “life changing”.
Back then, there were only about 80 members but today the national peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives boasts a community of 1,500.
“I didn’t find out about CATSINaM until 2008 so I’d already been through university and been working for about 18 years at that point but it changed my life,” Robinson reveals.
“It just opened up my eyes and I think I didn’t realise that there was this whole kind of network and this family out there that understood what I was going through because often you are on your own and you’re isolated. You do your job because that’s what you do but you do feel like there’s a cultural loneliness.”
As the new CEO, Robinson’s priorities include growing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives across the country and ensuring the workforce is strongly supported.
“I think the health system has still got lots of issues going on like racism and often as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurse or midwife you’re having to experience and deal with that for families and also as a worker sometimes experiencing that on a personal level.
“I think for a lot of my mob and myself I know it’s hard working in big systems. It’s a difficult space and often you’re feeling like you’re getting pulled in all directions because families want to be involved in their care but you’ve got your own workload as well.
“I think trying to make spaces culturally safe for people as well, that’s really challenging because we’ve got a big workforce and not everyone is up to speed with what cultural safety is and how they need to deliver it. You are also expected to educate non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives so that’s a challenge.
Like other peak bodies, Robinson admits CATSINaM faces significant challenges in coming years, but believes the organisation can help shape important changes at the political table.
“There’s been a lot of work done to get us in and get our voice in there. I think sometimes, through oversight, not through anyone’s ill intent or anything, we do get left out of some of the work that’s happening. So I think it’s up to us to start lobbying and knocking on the door and getting our voice in there.”