‘Together we are stronger’; health students strive for better First Nations patient outcomes

29 JUNE 2022

‘Together we are stronger’; health students strive for better First Nations patient outcomes

Charles Sturt University paramedicine students and First Nations mental health students recently participated in training scenarios as part of their preparation for work in communities throughout Australia.

  • First-responder role-play scenarios for Charles Sturt University students promote better outcomes in First Nations patient health callouts
  • The training scenarios develop understanding and service integration between paramedics and mental health carers
  • Students gain cultural insights and understanding of other health service roles

Charles Sturt University paramedicine students and First Nations mental health students recently participated in training scenarios as part of their preparation for work in communities throughout Australia.

Associate Head of School - Paramedicine Dr Sonja Maria in the Charles Sturt School of Nursing, Paramedicine and Healthcare Sciences in Bathurst said the scenarios were designed to give both groups of students insights into the possible needs of First Nations patients and how the paramedics in particular operate when on-call.

“There are many ways to get to the same endpoint with these scenarios, and all ways can be acceptable in a learning environment,” she said.

“Most importantly, the students enjoyed the experience in a positive framework while ensuring respect, understanding, safety and patience were used by all involved.”

In each scenario, the ‘patient’ used the script provided to act out their role, while all other participants played their role as a carer in their profession to the expectations of the role.

Dr Maria said the interdisciplinary training day was created with the assistance of Dr Jola Stewart-Bugg, the Discipline Leader for First Nations at Charles Sturt. Learning outcomes for each scenario were the same, with some minor differences for the outcome of the patient.

All scenarios were designed to:

  • Increase knowledge of other health provider services and their role in the patient journey
  • Demonstrate and provide care to a patient who has a mental health crisis, adapting patient care plans as appropriate.
  • Liaise effectively with other healthcare providers to find common goals

Students who participated agreed that mental health and First Nations people is important and greater awareness by first-responders is essential.

First Nations mental health student Mr Cameron Balcombe said, “The day was a great step towards collaboration between future first responders and future First Nations mental health clinicians. The scenarios were eye-opening, to see what is involved in on-the-ground care and how collaboration between services can strengthen outcomes.”

First Nations mental health student Mr Mark Syron said the scenarios were about “ … working together to create better outcomes for people using all the services. Together we are stronger.”

First-year paramedic student Ms Laura Wickenden said, “This paramedic course has been really important to me to know how I can make a difference to people’s lives in the mental health sector.

“This is something that has been a growing thing in the paramedics’ community, we’re actually dealing with it a lot more these days, and it’s been really educational for me to know how I can make a difference, how I can take the extra five minutes in my ‘scene management’ to explain things to family. It’s been good to get First Nations perspective on how we can do better for them.”

Paramedicine student Mr Brendan Paliaga said he learned more about First Nations perspectives than in 10 years of clinical experience.

Ms Sarah Sawyer, a recent paramedicine graduate who will soon be taking up employment with the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said it was fascinating to watch the students interact like this.

“The students have never had any circumstances like this before, and they didn’t really know what their roles entailed,” she said.

“From a First Nations perspective, paramedics are often seen as a hinderance, and being able to share perspectives and integrate is essential. They truly understand each other’s point of view, and a lot of barriers were broken down on both sides.”

The four scenarios students explored were:

  • A couple from Maningrida in Arnhem Land live in the long grass bush camp close to the centre of Darwin with a shelter for sleeping, a campfire, an esky and a few other belongings. The wife has requested assistance for ‘Henry’ as lately he has been really forgetful, and she is worried that he needs help as his problem is more than just forgetfulness and is likely a degenerative issue, compounded by untreated type 2 diabetes.
  • The local publican has called the paramedics because he is concerned about a well-known patron of the pub who is usually well behaved and liked by all but who has been unusually rowdy lately and has been prone to poor behaviour needing his intervention. Today he is worried it may be more of a medical problem (schizophrenia and intoxication) as she has been ranting about things he doesn’t understand.
  • A man who lives off-country and has a previous medical history of mental health issues (psychosis) has been found by police wandering around the neighbourhood shouting. Police request the paramedics to attend to perform a mental health assessment and have also called the community mental health worker to assist.
  • A transgender ‘self-harm’ incident at a residential address, with a family member present who has called the ambulance service and the mental health unit for assistance.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Sonja Maria contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au 

Photo: Paramedicine and First Nations mental health students engaged in one of the scenarios.

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