Preparing for Practice

Hunting with the locals at Tiwi Islands.

Photo: Hunting with the locals at Tiwi Islands.

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Culture Awareness

Developing a culturally aware and sensitive approach to provision of health services takes time, cultural awareness, keen observations. In short, it can’t be summed up in an orientation manual, so let’s set some realistic targets.

You want to be accepted as a health professional and individual within your community, and you are there to provide specific services. You don’t want to make mistakes or cause embarrassment to yourself or others. It may sound simple, but if you treat people with respect you won’t go wrong. You won’t be rejected if you make a mistake, but you will be judged on the basis of your attitude to people and culture.

Cultural awareness depends upon more than knowledge. Personal attitudes and responses indicate your level of willingness to take on board new information.

While you may provide health services to people from many cultural backgrounds, Aboriginal people will comprise the largest single cultural group.
If you’re to become culturally aware, you will need to step out of your professional role and become a student, with the local Aboriginal community as your teacher.

Community members will provide you with information according to their beliefs and priorities, rather than yours. If you are unable to accept this role reversal, all the information available won’t help you be culturally aware. Remember, Aboriginal people (including most AHWs) in most Aboriginal communities will be there long after you leave. It is likely they have seen many non-Aboriginal health professionals come and go in their lifetime.

While you’ll need to use local Indigenous people as your teachers, some cultural information is applicable throughout most areas of Australia. Taking part in the Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Program (ACAP) is one way of gaining additional information.

There’s no checklist that can be provided to make a person culturally aware. New staff can be introduced to a range of issues that have cultural significance.

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"Cultural awareness depends upon more than knowledge."

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