Connecting the conceptual and practical dots – preparation of health professionals to work effectively and safely in Indigenous primary health care settings

Robyn Williams


The author’s PhD research into the above question led to the development of a conceptual framework outlining the key components of preparedness and mediating factors. These components include:

1. Core Attributes (background, upbringing, personality, making sense of the landscape, being comfortable with discomfort and difference);

2. Education and Training (formal, informal, placements, professional development);

3. Orientation to the Practice Context (Indigenous communities, formal, informal, self-directed, ‘knowing what you don’t know’);

4. Key Requirements of a ‘Good’ Health Professional (skill sets, currency and competency, cultural safety, working cross-culturally and across disciplines).

So what does all this mean in terms of future practice locally, nationally and globally?

There aren’t many surprises in the findings, but they do provide data to support much of what we know anecdotally and a cohesive frame work; both of which can contribute to policy and strategies for curriculum development, recruitment and retention, orientation in the short term and improved health outcomes in the long term.

Recommendations include reorientating the education and training of health professionals to comprehensive primary health care and cultural safety and specific practice contexts; ensuring transparent and well-resourced career pathways for all health professionals; and embedding flexible and comprehensive orientation programs that meet local community needs, organisation and system requirements, and national policy and strategic responses to government priorities.

The focus is on remote health practice but there are wider implications for all health professionals and the context where they work.


Robyn Williams BA, RN, Grad DipEd, MPET

Robyn has nursing and education qualifications and has nearly forty years of experience of working with Indigenous peoples, primarily in the NT but also all over Australia. Her experience and interests include cultural safety, effective communication; curriculum development and program implementation; evaluation of community based programs; and qualitative research in Indigenous and rural and remote health issues.

Robyn is currently coordinating the Bachelor of Health Science at CDU where she also teaches into the Bachelors of Nursing and Midwifery (Indigenous health, working cross-culturally and rural and remote health). Recently she has been part of a CATSINaM working group for the adaptation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Curriculum; and is working with IAHA on a Career Pathways project and a Cultural Responsiveness workshop package. She has also worked closely with the Chronic Conditions and Remote Health programs, NT Department of Health, and has facilitated effective communication and health literacy workshops for an NT DoH project.

Robyn has worked collaboratively with the NRHA, AMSANT, CATSINaM, IAHA, Lowitja Institute of Indigenous Health Research, and CRANAplus.

Robyn writing up her PhD thesis on exploring preparation for health professionals to be culturally safe and effective practitioners in Indigenous primary health care settings.