Realising our value through Workforce Development: Developing an Indigenous health workforce

Dr. Alison Nelson1,2

1The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, Windsor, Australia, 2The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

Background: Developing an effective health workforce in Indigenous health requires an inter-disciplinary, integrated approach across schools, universities and workplaces. It also requires a multi-pronged approach of developing pathways for Indigenous students into health careers. Often the education, training and university sectors fragment the system which makes the development of a workforce in Indigenous health even more complex. To address this, the Institute for Urban indigenous Health (IUIH) has been developing its health workforce over the past 8 years, through a dedicated and integrated ecosystems approach.

Method:  The IUIH has developed a systematic and integrated workforce development pipeline to ensure a focussed and intentional approach to developing health professionals from health service users to school-based trainees to university graduates.  This includes in-reach strategies into schools and universities as well as outreach opportunities for training and placements within IUIH’s network.

Results: IUIH’s workforce initiatives have resulted in growth from 1 allied health professional employed in 2010 to over 70 in 2019 and 30 students/year placed in 2010 to 370 students/year placed in 2018. Fourteen graduates who has undertaken placements with IUIH were employed in 2018/19. IUIH’s school-based training program in allied health and fitness assisting targets young people with significant barriers to academic success with the aim of changing life trajectories. 85% of trainee graduates have continued to employment, with  71% continuing through to university studies.  Several key learnings from this work will be presented including the importance of cultural mentors, pastoral care and graduate support, as well as key leadership from Indigenous allied health professionals and management. In particular real case examples of success stories will be presented.

Conclusion: The development of a culturally responsive workforce in Indigenous health and a growth in allied health positions within Indigenous health services can be achieved and maintained with strong partnerships across schools, universities and Indigenous workplaces when integration and Indigenous leadership are key drivers. IUIH has developed a workforce pipeline model to reflect this.


Dr Alison Nelson (B. Occ Thy, M.Occ Thy (research), PhD) is an occupational therapist with extensive research, teaching and practice experience working alongside urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Alison has completed both a research Master’s degree and PhD in the areas of service delivery and perceptions of health for urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, and she has published widely in these fields. Alison is currently the Director for Organisational  Development at the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health where she brings together her experience working in both clinical and academic settings.   Alison has a particular interest in developing practical strategies which enable non-Indigenous students, researchers and practitioners to understand effective ways of working alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

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