Helping create a new generation of Indigenous nurses

First published 12 December 2012

A passion to increase the numbers of Indigenous nursing students, and eventual nurses, has driven one of this weekend’s graduates at James Cook University.

Roianne West, an adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Midwifery & Nutrition, will be graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy at JCU’s Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences ceremony on Saturday.

For her PhD, Ms West completed a study titled Indigenous Australian participation in Pre-registration tertiary nursing courses: An Indigenous mixed methods study.

Ms West, the first full-time Aboriginal academic in the School of Nursing Midwifery and Nutrition, said she was concerned about the fact that Indigenous students were continually unrepresented in nursing courses and consequently, numbers of registered Indigenous nurses in Australia remained low.

“The study emerged as a result of my experiences as a nursing student and later as a nursing academic,” she said.

“These experiences caused me to become concerned with the ongoing failure of many students within the current nursing education system.

“The aim of the study was to uncover the current state of Indigenous nursing student success in tertiary courses.

“I wanted to describe Indigenous student experiences of barriers to and strategies for success, develop a narrative of the student experience, and to describe the factors that academics identify as barriers to, or strategies for, Indigenous nursing student success.”

Ms West said it became clear that this was an area of study that was very much needed.

“Given the importance of Indigenous nurses in potentially leading the ‘close the gap’ campaign in Australian Indigenous health outcomes, I felt the need to research in this area as my contribution to ensuring a better future for our people.”

Townsville Hospital and Health Service director of nursing Val Tuckett said Roianne’s role with the THHS played a significant part in the health service’s goal to help ‘close the gap’.

“The indigenous nursing and midwifery service, under Roianne’s stewardship, has piloted Queensland first Indigenous midwifery program,” Ms Tuckett said.

“I am delighted with the progress of this initiative and excited about its potential to improve Indigenous maternal and child health outcomes in north and north-west Queensland.”

Ms West said there were several challenges during her three-year course, however, her drive to gain greater knowledge to be able to make a greater difference for her people kept her going.

“The hardest thing by far was the personal sacrifices particularly on relationships with family and friends,” she said.

“The learning at times was euphoric and exciting. The PhD has changed me and I hope the findings from the study will bring about change for Indigenous communities.”

Ms West said she was a very proud "Murri from the Curry", born and raised on her mother’s ancestral lands; the Kalkadoons in Cloncurry and Mount Isa in North West Queensland.

All her family will be there to support her on Saturday and Ms West said she attributed her success to her Indigenous knowledge and an abundance of support

“Knowing the process and re-delivering it in a way that is culturally appropriate which would not be possible without the Indigenous knowledge I have learned from my family.”

Roianne said she wanted to particularly acknowledge her supervisors, the JCU Building Indigenous Research Capacity Building Grant and Townsville Hospital Health Service for their support.

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175