Background: Promoting cultural competence of health professionals working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is key to improving health outcomes. Cultural Educators and Cultural Mentors (CE/ CMs) have critical roles in Australian general practice training, yet these are not well understood.
Methods: Guided by a CE/CM Network, our research team including experienced CE/CMs, used surveys and semi-structured interviews to explore these roles and investigate best practice in employment and support. Participants sampled from stakeholders involved in general practice education across Australia included CE/CMs, Medical Educators, General Practice Supervisors and Registrars, and representatives of Regional Training Organisations, Indigenous Health Training Posts and other key organisations. We undertook thematic analysis using a framework approach, refined further in team discussions that privileged views of CE/ CM members.
Results: Participants comprised 95 interviewees and 55 survey respondents. We organised our findings under three overarching themes: understandings about cultural education and mentoring; employment and support of CE/CMs; and delivery and evaluation of cultural education and mentoring. Our findings supported a central role for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander CE/CMs in face-to-face Registrar education about culture and history and related impacts on health and healthcare. Cultural education was reported to provide base-line learning as preparation for clinical practice whilst cultural mentoring was seen as longitudinal, relationship-based learning. Mentoring was particularly valued by Registrars working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Challenges described with employment and support included difficulties in finding people with skills and authority to undertake this demanding work. Remuneration was problematic, particularly for CMs whose work-time is difficult to quantify, and who are often employed in other roles and sometimes not paid. Other improved support recommended included appropriate employment terms and conditions, flexibility in role definitions, and professional development. Recommendations concerning implementation and evaluation included valuing of cultural education, greater provision of mentoring, partnerships with Medical Educators, and engagement of CE/CMs in rigorous evaluation and assessment processes.
Conclusions: Our research highlights the importance of the unique CE/CM roles and describes challenges in sustaining them. Professional and organisational support is needed to ensure delivery of respectful and effective cultural education within general practitioner training.