The National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners (NAATSIHWP) has claimed August 7 as a day to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers across the country.

Falling on the date that NAATSIHWP was formed, CEO Karl Briscoe told NIT that the inaugural National Day of Recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners was a way for the organisation to “shine a spotlight” on a crucial workforce.

“It’s about our members, it’s their day, they really need to be given the limelight,” he said.

“Other professions have a day during the year, nursing, and things like that — so why can’t our profession?

“This is a profession on its own. Everywhere else in the world you have doctors, nurses and allied health, but Australia has something very special and unique [in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and practitioners]. We think it is a source of national pride.”

The spark that spurred the idea was an increasing need for broader Australia to understand the power of Indigenous health in Indigenous hands.

Briscoe says for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the decision to join the health industry comes down to a love for community.

“For our mob, this work is a strong cultural base. Ensuring that our clients, communities and families, when they access a health service, the cultural safety is first and foremost in the care that is provided,” he said.

“Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands comes down to that we as Aboriginal [people] know that being treated by another Aboriginal person means our culture is being respected our entire health journey — the cultural safety is always there.

“We know that better health outcomes are achieved when Aboriginal people are involved in Aboriginal people’s healthcare.”

For many workers, the choice to pursue a career in health may follow in the footsteps of family.

“For a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health workers and practitioners, they’ve seen an Uncle or Aunty or a relative in this profession, they have that role model. A lot of them do follow on from their footsteps, it’s a continued legacy in families,” Briscoe said.

“This is also a day that acknowledges the workforce that came before. I know this myself thinking of my mother, the struggles that she would have had to put up with.

“Our past workforce, they fought really hard for what we have, and we continue that fight, whilst respecting our Elders and those gone before us.”

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) also joined celebrations on August 7.

NACCHO leads the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector, which is the frontline for protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples against COVID-19.

“We want to celebrate and recognise the ACCHO frontline workers who have delivered the highest flu vaccination rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under five-years and have done a phenomenal job at safeguarding our communities from COVID-19, working towards high rates of vaccination amongst our people,” said NACCHO Chair Donnella Mills.

“The staff are the lifeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health! They are trusted and have delivered stronger health outcomes for our people that have more complex comorbidity profiles and lower social determinants of health compared to other Australians.”

Mills said it’s the “tireless efforts, dedication and effective health communications” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and practitioners that enables NACCHO to continued their advocacy for community-developed solutions which “contribute to the quality of life and improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

Despite the inaugural day of recognition having passed, each day Aboriginal and Torres Strait health workers and practitioners are working to provide safe and significant care to their mob.

“I want to let all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health workers and practitioners know that, you are our heroes in our community,” said Briscoe.

“You are the backbone, the bridge, the link, the conduit between the community and health service.”

By Rachael Knowles