Aboriginal physiotherapist mentors next generation at Blacktown Hospital

Blacktown Hospital physiotherapist Cameron Edwards has also upskilled to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations.

Every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person studying physiotherapy at the University of Sydney will have at least one placement at Blacktown Hospital this year.

Physiotherapist Cameron Edwards initiated the opportunity as a way to pay forward the support he received by investing in the next generation of Aboriginal allied health professionals.

It’s a full circle moment for the Blacktown local, who was going to follow his older siblings into teaching before getting a call from the Aboriginal student support unit at the University of Sydney.

Cameron Edwards with physiotherapy students Tegan and Grace.

The person on the other end of the phone was Simone-Cherie Holt, who recently joined Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) as the state’s first Aboriginal health practitioner program lead.

Simone-Cherie reassured Cameron he had what it takes to become a physiotherapist.

“As I did placements I became really content in this field, and seeing how I could help patients as part of their healthy journey made me more and more passionate,” he said.

“The support I received as a student was invaluable, so now I want to do what I can to provide a positive cultural experience and encourage people to work in the public health system, because I value it and I trust it.”

Over the years Cameron has written and presented at national conferences on the importance of Aboriginal cultural sensitivity in healthcare. He’s also put his hand up to support the COVID-19 response in WSLHD including helping vaccinate the Aboriginal community.

“Unfortunately Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are overrepresented in hospital admissions and poor health outcomes,” Cameron said.

Communication is so important to bridging that gap, linking with other services and overcoming historical mistrust. When I identify myself as an Aboriginal man that helps people feel safe, comfortable and heard.”

His current students are Tegan and Grace, who are both originally from Kamilaroi country in the state’s north.

“It’s the best thing having someone invested in our learning. Cameron really takes the time to explain things and build on what we know,” Grace said.

“I’m feeling more confident from this placement. It’s a good spot to be in for personal and professional development.”

Cameron vaccinates a member of the Aboriginal community against COVID-19.

Tegan said the pair have also met with Aboriginal liaison officer Yvonne To’a and learned more about how to provide the best support to patients.

“We’re getting a professional education beyond the clinical side, so we can really make a difference in Aboriginal health,” she said.

Both students plan to apply for an allocation in Sydney after graduation and build their skills before eventually returning to regional or rural areas.

“I want to build my knowledge so I can share it and work in my community to help Aboriginal patients and students,” Tegan said.

WSLHD is currently working on a partnership with Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) to provide Year 11 and Year 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students the opportunity to complete a nationally recognised Certificate III in Allied Health Assistance qualification through TAFE NSW.

To learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander career opportunities in WSLHD, visit our website or contact Aboriginal training coordinator Kristy Kendrigan by emailing Kristy.Kendrigan@health.nsw.gov.au.