Realising our value through Clinical Education: Health students’ experiences of clinical placements in Indigenous contexts

Dr. Alison Nelson1,2, Dr.  Kate Odgers-Jewell1

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

Background: The teaching of “cultural competency” in relation to Indigenous Health is a requirement or aspiration of all Australian universities offering health programs to broaden student’s knowledge and promote culturally responsive care (Universities Australia, 2011). However, content is often taught in isolation from practical experiences  and has the potential to promote only negative aspects of Indigenous health. In addition, health professionals report experiencing anxiety or inadequacy about working in this area (Wilson et. al, 2015). The Institute for Urban Indigenous health has worked with local universities to develop clinical placements which are used to provide practical experience in a scaffolded Indigenous health learning environment. This presentation will describe the clinical placements offered to students by IUIH and describe the change in attitudes and beliefs of students throughout the course of their placement.

Method: Student placement experiences are evaluated using  20 five-point Likert items relating to students’ perceptions of the learning environment, skills development, awareness and self-development, supervision and their overall experience. Two open-ended response items on the positive and negative aspects of the practicum and how these impacted students’ learning are also collected.

Results from the IUIH student database indicate an increase from 30 students/year across three disciplines to over 370 students/year across 20 disciplines. In addition, student clinical hours have increased by 440% over the past 8 years. Survey results will be reported in detail but indicate areas of strength and potential for growth and improvement.

Discussion: Service-learning experiences in urban First Australian contexts are shown to equip the emerging workforce with supportive networks, experience in culturally-responsive service provision and supported opportunities to develop ways of thinking, doing and partnering with First Australians towards optimising health and well-being.


Universities Australia. (2011). National Best Practice Framework for Indigenous Cultural Competency. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Retrieved September 9, 2015, from

Wilson, A.M., Magarey, A.M., Jones, M., O’Donnell, K. & Kelly, J. (2015). Attitudes and characteristic of health professionals working in Aboriginal health. The International Electronic Journal of Rural and Remote Health Research, Education Practice and Policy, 15(2). Retrieved  September 18, 2015 from


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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