Better health and ageing for all Australians

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Why is it important?:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are significantly under represented in the health workforce (see measure 3.12). Improving and supporting the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in tertiary education for health-related disciplines is vital to increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the health workforce.

Findings:

In 2010, there were an estimated 1,766 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary student enrolled in health-related courses and 278 completions. Although enrolment and completion rates for Indigenous students have increased since 2001, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous student rates has widened. The success rate for Indigenous students studying health-related courses in 2010 was 76% compared with 92% for non-Indigenous students.

The most common health-related course for Indigenous undergraduate students in 2010 was nursing (782 enrolments, and 100 completions). In the same year, there were 309 Indigenous students enrolled in public health courses. Of these, 159 were in a specific Indigenous health course. In the same year, there were 39 completions in a public health course. There were an estimated 175 Indigenous students enrolled in medicine. In 2010, there were 17 Indigenous medical student completions, compared with 13 in 2008, 10 in 2003, nine in 1999 and three in 1997. Participation rates remained very low in rehabilitation therapies, dental studies, pharmacy, radiography and optical science. Indigenous student enrolment and completion rates were lower than non-Indigenous student rates in the younger age groups, but exceeded non-Indigenous student rates in the older age groups (35 years plus for enrolments and 45 years plus for completions).

Vocational Education and Training (VET) attracts the highest proportion of Indigenous students studying and completing health-related courses. In 2010, there were an estimated 5,100 Indigenous student enrolments in health-related courses in the VET sector and 554 completions. Indigenous student rates in health-related courses were higher than non-Indigenous student rates for both enrolments (147 per 10,000 compared to 70 per 10,000) and completions (16 per 10,000 compared to 10 per 10,000). The most common type of health-related course for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students was public health (2,796 enrolments and 376 completions) followed by nursing (464 enrolments and 54 completions). In the same year, there were 283 VET sector student completions in a course aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker occupations in Australia. Women account for 70% of the student completions in this course. Participation rates remained very low in pharmacy, optical science, dental studies and complementary therapies. In 2010, the VET load pass rate for Indigenous students studying health related courses was 79% compared with 86% for non-Indigenous students.

Implications:

Trends to 2010 show significant success in the VET sector but a widening of the gap for numbers of students enrolled in, or completing health related higher education courses. The Pathways into the workforce for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a blueprint for action (NATSIHC 2008), the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework (2011–2015), and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Equality Council (NATSIHEC), which provides advice to the Health Minister on a range of matters including health workforce, all assist in addressing the gap in higher education. Funding is provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak health professional organisations, associations and networks to support Indigenous students, to promote health careers in schools and colleges, and for mentoring and support to university and VET students. Funding is also provided to support the network of Aboriginal community controlled health registered training organisations; and to the Leaders in Medical Education network which focuses on improving the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning of Indigenous health in medical education through a nationally agreed curriculum framework; and for promoting best practice in the recruitment and retention of Indigenous medical students. The Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme continues to provide scholarships for Indigenous students in all health disciplines. In 2012, there were over 320 Indigenous students studying under the Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme.

Increasing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in health disciplines is a priority under the Australian Government's Rural Clinical Training and Support Program and the University Departments of Rural Health. Additionally, the Flinders University NT Indigenous Transition Pathways to Medicine Project assists students to make a successful transition into the medical program. Under the Indigenous Chronic Disease Package, training opportunities are being provided for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Workers. Opportunities are also being provided for GP registrars and nurses training in Aboriginal Medical Services.Top of Page

The Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges has formed the Indigenous Health Subcommittee to develop a strategy and implementation plan to attract, recruit and retain Indigenous GPs to become medical specialists, as well as developing a plan to better integrate Indigenous health into specialist training curricula. Health Workforce Australia will be undertaking skills recognition and upskilling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers across Australia to meet the national registration requirements for practitioners from 1 July 2012.

The Aged Care Workforce Fund will provide a continuum of training, education and support for the aged care workforce and facilitate collaboration between the aged care training and research sectors. It will also support targeted training strategies to support the delivery of culturally appropriate care.

Some medical schools have been significantly more successful in attracting and retaining Indigenous medical students. These schools have adopted comprehensive approaches including: locally-based strategies involving personal contact and community engagement; building relationships with potential students and their families and communities; and Indigenous medical or health support units. Fifty-seven per cent of Indigenous Australian medical students reported the presence of a support unit as their main reason for choosing a university. The presence of Indigenous staff within the school was also important, along with mentoring, curriculum and cultural safety (Minniecon et al. 2005). Improvements in school educational retention and attainment are also necessary (see measure 2.05). Strategies are required to increase enrolment in courses for the health disciplines in which Indigenous students are under-represented.
Table 51—Student enrolments and completions in health-related courses in the tertiary education sector, 2010
EnrolledTop of Page
CourseNumber:
Indigenous
Number:
Other
Rate per 10,000:
Indigenous
Rate per 10,000:
Other
Nursing
782
37,298
21.44
21.05
Public health
309
5,945
8.47
3.36
Indigenous health
159
52
4.36
0.03
Other public health
150
5,893
4.11
3.33
Medical studies
175
14,456
4.80
8.16
Rehabilitation therapies
82
12,893
2.25
7.28
Dental studies
35
2,617
0.96
1.48
Pharmacy
n.p.
4,910
n.p.
2.77
Radiography
18
2,003
0.49
1.13
Optical science
< 10
642
n.p.
0.36
Total domestic undergraduate
1,415
79,433
38.79
44.84
Total
1,766
128,153
48.41
72.34
n.p. refers to 'not published' as the rate is based on very small numbers


CompletionsTop of Page
CourseNumber:
Indigenous
Number:
Other
Rate per 10,000:
Indigenous
Rate per 10,000:
Other
Nursing
100
7,598
2.74
4.29
Public health
39
904
1.07
0.51
Indigenous health
n.p.
n.p.
n.p.
n.p.
Other public health
n.p.
n.p.
n.p.
n.p.
Medical studies
17
2,358
0.47
1.33
Rehabilitation therapies
< 10
2,604
n.p.
1.47
Dental studies
< 10
597
n.p.
0.34
Pharmacy
< 10
1104
n.p.
0.62
Radiography
< 10
548
n.p.
0.31
Optical science
< 10
103
n.p.
0.06
Total domestic undergraduate
177
15,787
4.85
8.91
Total
278
31,374
7.62
17.71
n.p. refers to 'not published' as the rate is based on very small numbers
Source: AIHW analysis of Higher Education Student Statistics Collection
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Figure 196—Indigenous Australian university student enrolments and completions in health-related courses, 2001–10
Figure 196—Indigenous Australian university student enrolments and completions in health-related courses, 2001–10
Source: AIHW analysis of Higher Education Student Statistics Collection
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Table 52—Vocational education and training (VET) sector students enrolled and completed health-related courses, 2010
Enrolled
CourseNumber:
Indigenous
Number:
Other
Rate per 10,000:
Indigenous
Rate per 10,000:
Other
Public health
2,796
41,414
81
28.1
Nursing
464
21,638
13
14.7
Medical studies
0
290
0
0.2
Dental studies
71
4,614
2
3.1
Complementary therapies
85
4,461
2
3
Rehabilitation therapies
0
227
0
0.2
Optical science
7
1,095
0
0.7
Pharmacy
0
78
0
0.1
Other health
1,677
28,842
48
19.6
Total
5100
102659
147
69.6
n.p. refers to 'not published' as the rate is based on very small numbers


CompletionsTop of Page
CourseNumber:
Indigenous
Number:
Other
Rate per 10,000:
Indigenous
Rate per 10,000:
Other
Public health
376
4,140
10.9
2.8
Nursing
54
4,246
1.6
2.9
Medical studies
0
28
0
0
Dental studies
21
1,543
0.6
1
Complementary therapies
11
990
0.3
0.7
Rehabilitation therapies
1
45
0
0
Optical science
0
260
0
0.2
Pharmacy
0
3
0
0
Other health
91
3,849
2.6
2.6
Total
554
15,104
16
10.2
n.p. refers to 'not published' as the rate is based on very small numbers
Source National VET provider collection 2010
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