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What does the work of National Reconciliation Week mean to healthcare in Australia?

Racism manifests in beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination. The Australian Healthcare system is rife with racism – conscious and unconscious, obvious and subtle. Constant exposure of racism, especially in the healthcare system where people seek help, contributes to delayed presentation, behaviours that can be wrongly interpreted as ‘non-compliance’ or even not seeking healthcare at all. The work of NRW influences Australian society through education and starting conversations. Once the truth of the colonisation and how it occurred is acknowledged we can start to develop mutually respectful relationships – this is not just vital for our nation to be united, the flow on effects will mean better clinician-patient-family-community interactions working towards a healthier nation both physically, mentally and socially…. NRW education and the momentum it is achieving year after year works towards closing the gap in practical and real ways.

The theme this year is ‘More than a word – reconciliation takes action’. What actions do you see as having been taken in emergency medicine to further reconciliation / what actions do you see as still needing to happen?

This year’s 20 actions for reconciliation really emphasises the power of the movement and what we as a nation must do. NRW is not just a tokenistic commemorative week for the 1967 referendum and Mabo High Court Decision. It is working towards a better future with education that is practical, influential and builds upon itself to leads to exponential evolutionary improvements.. These can all be translated into the art and science of Emergency Medicine. Take for example “support self determination”.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to be in charge of decision-making and leadership for themselves and their communities.  

This can translate into emergency medicine practice in so many ways – take an appropriate social history, gain rapport, know the patient and what makes them so unique so OPTIONS of care can be tailored. Having a working group in your department for any Indigenous issue without appropriate Indigenous leadership to have control of their community data has a similar feel to when our people were put under the care of mission managers and religious clergy – empower us, support us with your skills, but let us speak and let us make our choices.

ACEM is renewing its RAP this year. Can you tell us about the progress you have seen through the College’s RAP commitments over the past few years? What kind of growth do you see for this year’s RAP?

I remember when the first working party got together for our inaugural RAP. I was a scared junior trainee, walking into the College HQ boardroom. I felt so out of place surrounded by all these consultants and portraits of previous presidents. This is where I have been so lucky to find allies who are actually my accomplice (but more importantly, they are my friends). They used their positions of power to support me and helped give me, the disempowered, a voice and a space. ACEM, in my opinion, does more for the Indigenous community, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Medical community, then any other Specialty College. Its RAP is more than ‘tick boxes’. It identifies targets and strives to reach its goals. The College engages the non-medical Indigenous community with its goal setting and planning. It wants to not just increase the number of Indigenous FACEMs, it wants to build them, support them, empower them and ensure safe success. I have always found the entire ACEM family genuine, caring and respectful. My friends in the College HQ and ACEM members across Australasia have done, and continue to, go above and beyond for the social justice of Indigenous Australia through Emergency Medicine. The great Prof Epstein said to me once, “I wish we did more”. As an Aboriginal man, I think ACEM is performing above the rest and continues to plan for the future with more improvements to Indigenous community health and Indigenous Emergency Medicine Physicians and trainees.

One of the messages from the organisers of National Reconciliation Week is to remember to privilege and amplify the voices of First Nations’ peoples. How do you think this can be/is achieved in the emergency medicine setting? 

Be an ally, be supportive, use your privilege and your voice, make changes where you can, upset the status quo and set an example. Use your power to make way for us to be re-empowered to speak up when we feel appropriate to do so. Racism and privilege are different, unpack that being able to read and go to school, not be followed by security in a shop and being the dominant culture is not your fault, no one is blaming you or calling you racist, privilege is an advantage that you are lucky to have, take advantage of it and help Aboriginal Australia receive the respect, dignity and equality every Australian deserves. If your town is named after a person who took part in the slaughter of Aboriginal people, use your dominant position in society to get the community aware and change the name, how can an Indigenous youth feel equal when growing up in a town with a statue of a mass murderer idolized in their community.

More information

National Reconciliation Week runs in Australia every year from 27 May to 3 June. This year Reconciliation Australia released a set of 20 actions that anyone can take to support reconciliation. Check them out