As a young dietitian, Dr Annabelle Wilson was thrown in the deep end when she was sent to work with Port Augusta, Oodnadatta and Coober Pedy Aboriginal communities, but her experiences there have led to revolutionary changes in the way non-Aboriginal health workers engage with Indigenous patients.
“I just felt totally ill-equipped to work with Aboriginal people,” Dr Wilson says of her first experiences there. “And I felt like the health service had a set of different priorities to those of the Aboriginal people I was working with.”
So strongly did she feel about how the health services were not meeting the needs of Aboriginal people that she did her PhD investigating how health professionals could work more effectively with Aboriginal communities, in order to contribute to better health outcomes for Aboriginal people.
Now as an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and a Senior Research Fellow, Dr Wilson is working to make those outcomes a reality.
As part of her effort to support healthcare providers, with colleagues Dr Wilson established a peer-mentoring scheme for dietitians working with Aboriginal people.
The dietitians, who came from all over Australia, came together for an initial face-to-face meeting and then, over a year, had six-weekly catch-up sessions to talk about people, challenges and enablers, and just to provide peer-to-peer support.
Now, with seed funding from the Flinders Foundation, she is working with a team to scale that up to a national intervention study, bringing Aboriginal voices into the mentoring process as a first step.
“We’re using the Knowledge Interface Approach, designed by Maori Elder and Scholar Sir Mason Durie, which is about bringing together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal knowledges – not privileging one type of knowledge over the other, but saying that both are valid and both are important, and we need to include them both,” Wilson says.
The other part of the seeding grant is to use something called “critical realist evaluation”.