You are here:

3.20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples training for health-related disciplines

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 the Higher Education Student Statistics collection for 2012, an estimated 2,037 current enrolments for health-related courses were for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary students, as were 353 health-related course completions. Enrolment rates for Indigenous university students have increased from 29 per 10,000 in 2001 to 46 per 10,000 in 2012. There has also been an increase in completion rates over this period, from 5.6 per 10,000 to 8 per 10,000. Enrolment rates increased at a faster rate than completion rates (75% compared with 68%). The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous student rates has increased for both enrolment and completion rates.

The success rate for Indigenous university students studying health-related courses in 2012 was 77% compared with 92% for non-Indigenous students. Health-related course enrolments for Indigenous undergraduate students in 2012 were highest for nursing (943 enrolments, and 115 completions). In the same year, there were 208 Indigenous students enrolled in public health courses (of these, 142 were in a specific Indigenous health course) and there were 65 completions. There were an estimated 249 Indigenous enrolments for medicine and 17 completions. Enrolment rates remained very low in 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 2012 there were 5,078 Indigenous student enrolments in health-related courses in the VET sector and 901 completions. Indigenous students were nearly twice as likely to be enrolled in health-related courses as other students (121 per 10,000 compared with 68 per 10,000). Rates for completions were also higher for Indigenous students (22 per 10,000 compared with 15 per 10,000). The most common type of health-related course for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students was public health (2,494 enrolments and 609 completions) followed by nursing (482 enrolments and 87 completions). Enrolment rates remained very low in pharmacy, optical science and medical studies.

In 2012, there were 521 VET-sector completions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker occupations in Australia. Women accounted for 78% of the student completions in these courses. The VET load pass rate for Indigenous students studying health-related courses was 75% compared with 83% for non-Indigenous students.

Implications

Trends to 2012 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.

Funding is provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak health professional organisations to promote health careers in schools and colleges, and for mentoring and support of Indigenous university and VET students.

Funding is also provided to the Leaders in Indigenous 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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Skills Recognition and Upskilling Project is assisting to increase the number of health workers in training to meet the required qualification standard to enable registration as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioner.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Certificate IV Training and Assessment Project is increasing the number of qualified trainers to provide quality, accessible training for Indigenous health workers.

The Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme continues to provide scholarships for Indigenous students in all health disciplines. In 2014, there were over 380 Indigenous students receiving training support under this 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 programme. Nurses working in Aboriginal Medical Services are prioritised for scholarships under the Nursing and Allied Health Scholarship and Support Scheme.

The Health Heroes campaign (also known as the Attracting More People to Work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health measure) is a component of the Indigenous Australians Health Programme. The aim of this initiative is to encourage study and employment in the Indigenous health sector. Evaluation research found that 36% of the target audience is aware of the campaign messages, and as a result many have explored entering the sector.

The Aged Care Workforce Fund will provide 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 for the delivery of culturally appropriate care.

Strategies are required to increase enrolment in courses for the health disciplines in which Indigenous students are under-represented. 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).

Table 3.20-1 Student enrolments and completions in health-related courses in the tertiary education sector by Indigenous status, 2012
Enrolments
Number Indig.
Enrolments
Number Non-Indig.
Enrolments
Number per 10,000
Indig.
Enrolments
Number per 10,000
Non-Indig.
Completions
Number Indig.
Completions
Number Non-Indig.
Completions
Number per 10,000
Indig.
Completions
Number per 10,000
Non-Indig.
Nursing 943 42,164 21.3 23.4 115 8,714 2.6 4.8
Public health 208 8,009 4.7 4.5 65 1,237 1.5 0.7
Indigenous health 142 35 3.2 0.0 51 6 1.2 0.0
Medical studies 249 15,109 5.6 8.4 17 2,889 0.4 1.6
Rehabilitation therapies 126 14,575 2.8 8.1 17 2,519 0.4 1.4
Dental studies 43 2,719 1.0 1.5 10 555 0.2 0.3
Pharmacy 23 5,116 0.5 2.8 <5 1,082 n.p. 0.6
Radiography 26 2,278 0.6 1.3 <5 572 n.p. 0.3
Optical science <5 712 n.p. 0.4 0 132 0.0 0.1
Total domestic undergraduate 1,614 88,092 36.5 49.0 230 17,337 5.2 9.6
Total 2,037 140,645 46.0 78.2 353 33,776 8.0 18.8

Note: for enrolments, persons may be studying in more than one field of education

Note: total includes undergraduate, postgraduate, domestic and international students

Source: AIHW analysis of Higher Education Student Statistics Collection

Figure 3.20-1 Indigenous Australian university student enrolments and completions in health-related courses, 2001 to 2012
Indigenous university student enrolments and completions

Figure 3.20-1 shows the number of Indigenous Australian university student enrolments and completions in health-related courses (per 10,000 population). Data is presented annually for 2001–2012. The figure shows that both enrolment and completion rates for Indigenous students have increased between 2001 and 2012, with enrolment rates increasing at faster rate than completion rates.

Source: AIHW analysis of Higher Education Student Statistics Collection

Figure 3.20-2 Undergraduate domestic health-related course completions by Indigneous status and age group, 2012
undergraduate domestic health-related course

Figure 3.20-2 show the number of undergraduate domestic health-related course completions (per 10,000) by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students. Data are presented separately for the following age groups: 15-24; 25-34; 35-44; 45-54; and 55 years and over.

Source: AIHW analysis of Higher Education Student Statistics Collection

Table 3.20-2 Vocational education and training (VET) sector student enrolments and completions in health-related courses, 2012
Enrolments
Number
Indig.
Enrolments
Number
Other
Enrolments
Number per 10,000
Indig.
Enrolments
Number per 10,000
Other
Completions
Number
Indig.
Completions
Number
Other
Completions
Number per 10,000
Indig.
Completions
Number per 10,000
Other
Public health 2,494 27,693 59.6 18.7 609 6,353 14.6 4.3
Nursing 482 25,137 11.5 17.0 87 6,396 2.1 4.3
Dental studies 86 4,920 2.1 3.3 26 1,908 0.6 1.3
Complementary therapies 56 5,888 1.3 4.0 18 2,179 0.4 1.5
Rehabilitation therapies 39 258 0.9 0.2 14 32 0.3 0.0
Medical studies 32 647 0.8 0.4 0 71 0.0 0.0
Optical science 10 686 0.2 0.5 2 117 n.p. 0.1
Pharmacy 0 121 0.0 0.1 0 24 0.0 0.0
Other health 1,879 35,458 44.9 24.0 145 4,890 3.5 3.3
Total 5,078 100,808 121.4 68.2 901 21,970 21.5 14.9

Note: students may enrol in more than one course

Source: AIHW analysis of NCVER, National VET Provider Collection, 2012