The Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service (KAMS) in Broome, WA has won the Small Training Provider of the Year 2019 at the Western Australian Training Awards.

Established in 1986, KAMS is no stranger to challenges. It has a history of delivering health services to Aboriginal people in the Kimberley and advocating for Indigenous health services nationally.

They may be small but KAMS has a whole lot of heart, providing high-quality vocational education and training to the Kimberley for over 33 years.

Senior Manager of KAMS’ Registered Training Organisation (RTO), Raeylene McKenna said the award was a huge win for the team.

“It’s validating the work we [are] doing and the integrity of our program … [we will] have very qualified health workers at the end of the year when they graduate,” Ms McKenna said.

KAMS supports and represents seven independent Kimberley Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and works to provide education opportunities to people living within these communities.

“Most of our clients come from remote communities, so our resources have to be contextualised specifically for them whilst maintaining the integrity of the training package,” Ms McKenna explains.

“We have to make sure it is delivered in a way that it is appropriate for students – there are clinical hours attached to that which enables them to have extra hours on-board, which builds their confidence and prepares them for the workforce.”

KAMS has a strategic priority to build a highly skilled Aboriginal health workforce said RTO Executive Manager, Julia McIntyre.

“It’s part of the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Planning Forum’s priorities. The RTO is a key part of delivering that and ensuring that Aboriginal Community Control is about having Aboriginal health in Aboriginal Community hands,” Ms McIntyre said.

There is significant need for home-grown Aboriginal health workers, particularly within the Kimberley.

“These people already live in the community, they understand the customary practices. They are a part of the community,” Ms McKenna said.

“A lot of the barriers that would face non-Indigenous people are already gone, they know the family structures [and] how the community operates. It’s easier to get that information to our patients, they are more compliant – we work a lot better with people if we have our own health workers on the ground.”

With over 28 language groups living in the Kimberley, language is still a large barrier for non-Indigenous health workers within the region.

KAMS provides not only education but support to ensure the positive wellbeing of enrolled students.

“We support our students, many come from low socio-economic backgrounds, a lot of them when going through their studies are exposed to [new] information they may not know about, things such as history. We often have to support their emotional and mental health,” Ms McKenna said.

The facility also partners with North Regional TAFE, who provide assistance with literacy and numeracy.

“It’s a transition of that holistic health into holistic education. It is different when you’re dealing with Aboriginal students from community compared to students in the city. Indigenous students in the city have a different experience to people coming from regions in the Kimberley who may have a much more traditional lifestyle,” Ms McIntyre said.

“We do have to take into consideration that our students live and breathe their customary practices from week to week, so we do have to be aware of that and offer support,” added Ms McKenna.

The training facility empowers and encourages its students. Completion rates for KAMS when it began were only six to seven people per year, however, last year 18 students graduated, all gaining full-time employment.

Ms McKenna said that the work that KAMS does within community is something incredibly powerful.

“I love to see Aboriginal people empowered – giving them the education, seeing them graduate at the end of the year. A lot of our students wouldn’t think about coming back to school, most left school at Year 7 or 8,” Ms McKenna said.

“For me, it’s about my people and their health. If we can make the slightest difference, if we can have that ripple effect – we teach one person, they teach their families and it travels into community. It’s about empowering them and allowing them to make choices for themselves and their families and communities.”