Australia’s first Aboriginal nurse practitioner is among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives featured in new collection of stories published by health and aged care industry superannuation fund HESTA.

Caring and Community: Stories from Aboriginal nurses and midwives has been launched this week to coincide with NAIDOC week, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of First Nations people.

The publication showcases the stories of 11 ATSI nurses and midwives who have made a positive impact in the Australian health system and the communities where they work and live.

It includes Lesley Salem (pictured above), who became a nurse practitioner 19 years ago and is the first Aboriginal person to do so. 

Ms Salem is a chronic disease nurse practitioner in the remote north-west Queensland Aboriginal community of Doomadgee, where she also provides care to residents at the aged care facility.

Ms Salem said she feels like “one of the luckiest people in the world” to be able to work with Aboriginal communities.

“Nursing has let me work with many Aboriginal communities and meet absolutely the most wonderful people,” Ms Salem told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“I love the philosophy and model of nursing and I love the way we provide better care to patients. I love being face-to-face with patients,” she said.

Providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people more support and resources could help encourage them to pursue medical and aged care roles, Ms Salem said.

“It’s about offering support and help to do their initial certificates and then encourage them into health work and then nursing education because for a lot of people it’s very frightening to go into education,” she said.

“The more we can encourage education as being a normal part of working and [provide support], it means that you can go through all the processes and gain more confidence to… get more local nurses who will stay in the area and look after people.”

Debby Blakey

Ms Salem said it was important to share stories such as hers to help spread awareness about the important role nurses have, especially in rural, regional and remote locations.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said these nurses and midwives show dedication to their community every day.

“These professionals are improving the cultural safety and responsiveness of healthcare, which we know is critical to achieving health equity,” Ms Blakey said in a statement.

Read their stories.

Main image: Lesley Salem

Improving communication with First Nations people with dementia

Also to also coincide with NAIDOC week, Dementia Support Australia has launched culturally appropriate picture cards to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with dementia as their verbal skills decline.

The picture cards, illustrated by Dagoman woman Samantha Campbell, aim help carers and health, aged care and medical staff communicate key messages with the people they care for.   

An example of DSA’s picture cards

The set of 58 picture cards are divided into eight categories including people, activities and objects, food and drinks, personal care, health, feelings, places, and animals.

Each card includes the English word and space on the back to write the word in the client’s language.

 Dementia Support Australia director Associate Professor Colm Cunningham said the resource would  support communication with First Nations people with dementia.

“These cards will provide the ability to communicate in a way that respects both the person and their culture with families, staff in aged care services and our DSA consultants,” Mr Cunningham said.

Order or download the cards.

This year, NAIDOC week takes place nationally 4 – 11 July.

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