A new Australian made podcast that reveals the reality of the hospital experience for Aboriginal patients in the Top End of the Northern Territory is receiving plaudits for its approach to cultural education in healthcare.
“Ask the Specialist: Larrakia, Tiwi and Yolŋu stories to inspire better healthcare” was created to help NT health professionals understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients better so they can deliver culturally safe, patient-centred care.
Designed to be local, the wisdom shared by Elders and Aboriginal leaders in the podcast is nevertheless revealing truths that resonate beyond the NT border. Audiences, globally, are responding in kind: The podcast has been downloaded 8,000 times since its launch in June.
Last month, it received the Silver Prize for Smartest Podcast at the 2020 Australian Podcast Awards, furthermore, senior figures in both policy and healthcare are also publicly expressing their praise for the series.
NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sally Sievers says Ask the Specialist has “the potential to save lives and address systemic racism”, while nurse Melanie Robinson, who is currently the Director of Aboriginal Health at the Child and Adolescent Health Service in WA, is also spreading the word about the series.
“I have promoted it to all the clinicians I know in WA. As an Aboriginal woman from the Kimberley and a registered nurse so much of what was discussed is relevant to our WA mob,” Ms Robinson, who is connected to both Ngarinyin and Gidja Country in the Kimberley, says.
The series was created by former ABC broadcaster and communications researcher Vicki Kerrigan with Aboriginal Health Practitioner, Yolŋu man, and current NT Young Australian of the Year, Stuart Yiwarr McGrath. Ms Kerrigan says the podcast was created for busy health professionals who struggle to attend cultural training.
“We wanted to try to deliver cultural education in a new way. We designed the podcast to be clinically relevant, with loads of practical tips and maybe even a bit of fun.”
Part of the Menzies School of Health Research’s Communicate Study, the podcast features leaders from the Larrakia, Tiwi and Yolŋu nations who are known as the “Specialists”. The Specialists answer questions posed by medical staff at Royal Darwin Hospital, where around 70% of the patients are Indigenous.
Issues discussed in the podcast stretch from informed consent and patient-centred care to questions that sit at the heart of cultural safety, such as: “I want to know what Aboriginal people feel like when we talk to them, what makes them think that we’re racist?”
Yolŋu leader Rarrtjiwuy Melanie Herdman, who shares her experience of hospitals in the podcast as a “Specialist”, says it is important to understand why some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a vexed relationship with the hospital system.
“Most of my family who go to hospital, they believe they are going there to die. I have had family who have chosen to die at home instead of going to hospital because they have seen other families struggle with being in hospital,” she says.
However, while Ms Kerrigan and Mr McGrath, who is also training to be an RN, researched and interviewed extensively to gather questions for the podcast, it isn’t a hand-holding exercise. Ms Kerrigan believes health professionals have the skills to undertake the work required to deliver culturally safe healthcare.
“For a long time white people, like me, have expected Aboriginal peoples to learn about this health system designed to suit other ‘white’ people,” Ms Kerrigan says, explicitly alluding to the cultural safety concepts driven by nurse researchers such as Dr Irihapeti Ramsden and Dr Ruth De Souza.
The Specialists hope their stories, which elevate the Aboriginal patient’s perspective and challenge negative stereotypes, will inspire health workers to reflect on their beliefs so they can deliver culturally safe care.
“The knowledge shared in these podcasts must be communicated as widely as possible so that the health workforce is better prepared to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have to enter the western medical system,” Larrakia Elder, and a “Specialist” featured in the series, Aunty Bilawara Lee, says.
Now that the podcast is finished, Ms Kerrigan is working with the Top End Health Service to embed it as part of their training, while groups such as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Aboriginal Medical Services of Northern Territory have added it into their respective cultural competency training programs.