‘A beautiful, honourable job’: How Nicole Winters and her team are transforming palliative care for Aboriginal patients

Nicole Winters is a Senior Aboriginal Health Worker in palliative care at Blacktown and Mount Druitt Hospitals. Each time her phone rings, the threat of sad news hangs heavy in the air. After all, her team guides up to 60 Aboriginal patients and their families through their final moments each year – and it’s not a question of if, but when.

“People assume I have a sad job, but I tell them I have a beautiful, honourable job,” Nicole said. 

“Whether I meet someone and am caring for them for five years, five minutes or five months, if I can do something in my role to make their experience easier, than that is my purpose. I have valued every connection that I have experienced.”

This sense of purpose and connection is what drives Nicole. Whether it be family connections, weddings, pets visiting the Palliative Care Unit or presenting beautiful keepsakes for families to treasure forever, Nicole is passionate about her work in transforming what end-of-life cultural responsive and respectful care looks like for Aboriginal communities.

“We’re doing really great, important work in western Sydney with our Mob for end-of-life care and making sure that our Mob is using and accessing our services. I believe that if we can get the end-of-life care right, we can help to change the intergenerational hurt and harm that has been experienced,” she said.

“Some people say it’s a cultural role, but it’s so much more than that: it’s good, respectful care. I am not here to speak on culture for Aboriginal families nor judge, as everyone does culture their way and differently for different reasons. We are here to support the journey.

“Getting it right for one Aboriginal family today doesn’t mean anything for the family that comes in tomorrow. It’s about listening and learning from all we work with each day and responding the needs of our Aboriginal patients and their families in that moment”