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Providing culturally safe care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients

12 July 2022

PA Hospital graduate nurse, Tammy Quinn has developed an innovation project titled ‘Providing culturally safe care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients’ which not only stole the show at the 2021 graduate nurse ceremony, but is being introduced into wards across PAH as a tool for patient safety.

Tammy said her inspiration for developing the project was prompted by a desire to make sure her family, and therefore her people, were looked after appropriately and safely.

“Research in my own ward of 4E indicated that 50 per cent of staff either weren’t confident or comfortable providing care that they could confirm was culturally safe,” Tammy said.

Additionally, she said that some international nurses may not have treated Indigenous patients so they wouldn’t know that there are differences in how those patients perceive health care. 

Tammy’s in-service for the team about the cultural nuances of communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients soon led to the development of a video education package which is hosted online and used as an orientation program for nurses on a growing number of wards across the hospital.

“Health literacy within many multicultural groups, and particularly Indigenous people, is low so making sure they understand what they have been told is an essential step.

“If the nurses are able to break down some of the routine elements of health care into things like who is coming to see them, when meals are happening, when family can visit and when clinical decisions will be discussed, Indigenous patients can have a greater understanding of their stay.

“They need to be told things like; what is happening now, how long do things take, why so many clinicians are coming to see them - what is a multidisciplinary team?” she said. “We often forget in this massive hospital that some of the indigenous communities are hours away and this is a huge building compared to their tiny local hospital. Quite simply, make sure they know where they are!”

Tammy said that sometimes it is not even about words - many indigenous patients may perceive direct eye contact as confrontational and that the healthcare worker is staring them down. “If everyone is aware that there is different communication queues, it will increase the comfort level of those patients in the care we are providing and that they are in a safe space.”

Lanyards printed with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag and polo shirts covered in Indigenous artwork are a staple in Ward 4E and are a conversation starter based on familiar imagery. They offer a point of rapport about origins, communities and tribes which is essential to helping those patients be more receptive to the care and clinical education being provided.

The online education tool also links with existing services at the hospital such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison team at PAH who are a wonderful reassurance, and also a functional support for services such as discharge planning, transport home or even clothes to get home in which Tammy says are absolutely essential services by an exceptional team.

“I am only the start of what can be achieved with this education program. My vision is that conversations, rapport and culturally safe care will start with every single nurse who is looking after a patient from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background,” she said.  “Each individual project has the potential to add up to a movement that will guarantee the most appropriate care for our Indigenous patients.”

Last updated 12 July 2022
Last reviewed 12 July 2022

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