Benefits of clinical education placements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities and Health settings

Students benefit from experiencing clinical education placements working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for many reasons. These placements often allow students to:

  • learn about working in First Peoples' Health – acquire knowledge and understanding of the complex determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health;
  • become ‘culturally responsive’ - develop their cultural competence and understanding of cultural safety;
  • develop awareness of cross-cultural interactions and effective communication and relationship building skills;
  • have the opportunity to individually contribute to, and potentially become advocates for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes;
  • increase their understanding of holistic, client-centred health and inter-professional practice;
  • develop high level consultation and collaborative planning skills (and therefore ‘listening’ skills) as well as an understanding of community-based services.

In this video, Jody Currie and Dr Alison Nelson talk about the benefits of clinical education placements working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Student supervisors and service providers can also benefit from offering clinical education placements in this context. The placements allow them to:

  • provide services they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to provide because students can offer additional clinical sessions, develop resources, research literature, or progress quality improvement projects for the service;
  • develop a future workforce that is aware of and responsive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health needs and the  job options that exist to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • develop relationships with universities that facilitate the incorporation of Aborignial and Torres Strait Islander health throughout the curriculum and encourage research initiatives to develop resources and evaluate outcomes.

Students highly value their experiences working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In this video, an occupational therapy student summarises her experience:


Another student's story...

I spent 1½ days a week over 8 weeks with the Deadly Ears team on placement as a speech pathology student. Those 8 weeks were some of the most enlightening weeks I have had in my degree. Before beginning this placement, I had very little experience and understanding of Indigenous Health and had no intention of working in that area. It was an area we had heard a lot about at uni but I never really understood the importance of applying this knowledge. By the time I finished my placement at DE, I learnt a lot, developed a passion for Indigenous health and was very eager to work in that area.

During my placement, I developed and coordinated a pre-literacy group for a local Indigenous kindy. The aim of the group was to support children who were planned to go to Prep the following year, however, there were also children involved who were much younger. This was challenging as the activities needed to be adaptable for the ages. There were also children who had other developmental delays (i.e. fine and gross motor) and the activities needed to also be adaptable for them. Although this was challenging, it was a fantastic opportunity as it required me to really think about what would be best for each child each week. And every week I had the reward of getting to know the children better and seeing them improve and shine over time.

I also had the opportunity to go to Cherbourg, a rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and to be involved in meetings with key community members and deliver an education session with Deadly Ears speech pathologists to the local daycare teachers. This was another fantastic opportunity as I was able to develop my skills in liaising with community members and presenting educational workshops in a culturally friendly way.

Although this placement did have its challenges, I would highly recommend it to any student. It is an eye opening experience and you learn and grow as a person and a professional. I wouldn’t change a thing about my 8 weeks with Deadly Ears.

Kate Thomson (2013)
James Cook University graduate



Please Note: References remain valid until superseded by later research. The resources referenced here are regularly reviewed and are considered current and relevant to the topics presented.

The information in this section was identified in interviews with clinicians working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in conjunction with the following references:

  • Davidson, B., Hill, A., and Nelson, A. (2013) Responding to the World Report on Disability in Australia: Lessons from collaboration in an urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15(1), 69-74.
  • Mazel, O, and Anderson, I. (2011). Advancing Indigenous health through medical education. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-disciplinary Journal, 13(1), 1-12.
  • Nelson, A. (2007). Seeing white: a critical exploration of occupational therapy with Indigenous Australian people. Occupational Therapy International, 14(4), 237–255.
  • Nelson, A. and Iwama, M. (2010). Cultural Influences and Occupation-centred Practice with Children and Families. In Rodger, S. (Ed.), Occupation-centred practice with children: A practical guide for occupational therapists (pp.75-93). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. 
  • Nelson, A., Shannon, C., and Carson, A. (2013) Developing health student placements in partnerships with urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services. Lime Good Practice Case Studies, Volume 2, 29-34.
  • Thomson, K. (2013)  Students' Stories. Speech Pathology Paediatric Indigenous Network Newsletter - Issue 9, September 2013.
  • Whitford, D., Taylor, J., and Thomas, K. (2013). Working in Indigenous health settings. In K. Stagnitti, A. Schoo, & D. Welch (Eds.), Clinical and fieldwork placements in the health professions (2nd ed) (pp. 329-347). Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.


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