Indigenous participation in health sciences education
: elements of the institutional learning environment critical for course completion

  • Helen Gilmore Spiers

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    At a time when health professionals struggle to address severely inadequate social conditions which are reflected in the poor health of Indigenous peoples from remote and rural Australia, Indigenous students are receiving confused messages from national politicians concerning their level of support available. This study identifies ways in which Western tertiary institutions may better appreciate those elements of the Indigenous students’ learning environment considered critical for success.

    This study initially describes the institutional support structures and applied strategies currently considered effective and culturally appropriate to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the Northern Territory. In attempting to investigate whether these solutions to the acknowledged problem of low retention rates and course completions in tertiary study are supported by the students themselves, the study records the perceptions of a sample of Indigenous students enrolled in three Northern Territory institutions across both the Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher Education (HE) undergraduate and post-graduate health sciences courses. With its methodology based within the Interpretive Paradigm, the study utilises qualitative research orientations, including semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, and acknowledges the ethical and political dimensions of the research. The resultant data provides insights into the many complex issues impacting on Indigenous Health Science students, many of whom are employed as community Health Workers.

    The research identifies that the informal learning generated by their unique experiences results in the students reaching a hybrid cultural space within the Western tertiary environment in which they can be an individual without loss of cultural identity.

    Amongst the findings it was learnt that institutions need to further foster relationships with the family and community connections of the students. This study reveals a Model of Support recommending that increased institutional Cultural Sensitivity involving the simultaneous development of Cultural Nurturing and Cultural Connections is required.
    Date of AwardMay 2010
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAllan Arnott (Supervisor)

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