Nursing a wish to see more Indigenous health care workers

29 May 2020

ANMEC Cultural Awareness Educator David ‘Tarnda’ Copley is heartened by the increased numbers of Aboriginal children in schools and those finishing Year 12.

“You have to have pretty good Year 12 scores to get into nursing,’’ he says. “We’re only just now starting to get good numbers of Year 12s in Aboriginal areas.

“There are seven dot points in (the federal improving Indigenous lives program) Closing the Gap. Seven main target areas.

“Only two of those seven points after 10 years have the government been successful at … getting more Indigenous kids to go to school and getting more Aboriginal kids into Year 12.’’

This week is National Reconciliation Week (May 27 to June 3), a week devoted to raising awareness of Indigenous culture, issues and the journey towards a fully reconciled country.

Mr Copley, an ANMFSA Council member and Flinders University Tutor, says he would like to see more Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders enter the nursing industry.

“The Department of Teaching at Flinders University gets out among the schools and really promotes it well, so lots of Aboriginal people doing teaching,’’ he says.

“We’ve just got to promote this as a doable career. It’s promoting it amongst communities.’’

Mr Copley has had a long association with the ANMF(SA) Branch as a Registered Nurse, and as an Indigenous consultant. He has formal qualifications as a Developmental Educator, a Registered Nurse and a Mental Health Nurse … the only Aboriginal person in South Australia to hold all three qualifications.

The course he designed and teaches at ANMEC is ‘Cultural Awareness in Clinical Practice’. He is also a Tutor and Aboriginal Adviser to students undertaking the Bachelor of Nursing at Flinders University - School of Nursing and Health Science.

“One of the things we look at is, you have a specific patient. What are their needs?’’ Mr Copley says. “Particularly if you have somebody who’s coming in from a rural remote area. Have they been in hospital before? Do they have traditional beliefs? Have they had a bad experience, can their family come with them?

“Part of this course is we’re looking at the importance of family and country and cultural needs … and hospitals and nurses are getting better at it thanks to the courses we’re running at ANMEC and Flinders.

“Health care is a problem for anybody living in a rural remote area but it’s even more of a problem for Aboriginal people who pretty much in those areas are in low socio-economic situations and who may not have transport … or have had bad experiences in the local ‘all-white’ hospital. There’s a whole range of preventions in place that stop people accessing services.

“Although services are getting better at working with that”.

“My local doctor a few years ago sent one of his staff off to do this type of training and he put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag in the window. And his Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander clients jumped from probably me and one other to about 30.

“Oh, we’ve got somebody here who understands, who we can talk to, he’s not going to judge us.

“We don’t have enough Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals at the moment, so it’s a matter of training non-Indigenous Health professionals to be able to work successfully with Indigenous clients/patients.

“What we aim for with the training is … not having to change gears when you have an Aboriginal client. Instead here’s a client who happens to be Aboriginal.

“It’s changing that attitude, ‘from OMG, an Aboriginal client, what do I do? To looking at the individual as a patient who may have specific needs as an Aboriginal person”.

“It’s changing that mindset.’’  

Visit for nrw.reconciliation.org.au  more information about National Reconciliation Week.