Many allied health professionals may have extensive experience as student supervisors, but limited experience supervising First Nations students.  Prior to placement, supervisors should consider their responses to the following questions and plan their professional development accordingly:

  • What  is my understanding of the complex history of Australia’s First Nations peoples?
  • What is my attitude towards First Nations people and my understanding of First Nations culture? How will my views affect my working relationship with this student?
  • Do I feel uncertain about whether the perspectives and support needs of First Nations students differ from non-indigenous students?
  • What learning and training do I have in supporting First Nations students? What additional support and learning do I need?
  • What learning and training have I received that would help me provide guidance to non-Indigenous students in providing culturally safe and responsive care?

Useful resources

In addition to placement planning principles and core clinical education skills, supervisors must also consider cultural safety for their student.  Resources that can support planning include:

Placement structure

While the general principles of placement planning apply, there are some specific factors that should be considered as part of placement planning for First Nations students.

Considerations for the placement structure:

  • University First Nations units:  What support will be provided?  Prior to placement, it is important that supervisors understand what support can be provided for the student from the University’s First Nations Unit. These units support First Nations students, creating networks and providing culturally safe and appropriate environments for learning.  Supervisors may need to consider providing opportunities for the student to attend meetings with a mentor from these units to ensure the student has a safe space where they can reflect on whether they feel culturally supported on placement.
  • Placement model:  Can First Nations students be placed together? Wherever possible, a paired learning model, where First Nations students can be placed together should be implemented.  If this is not an option, consider linking the student with a First Nations student from another profession who is on placement concurrently.
  • Orientation: What should orientation include? The mainstream views on what ‘work’ looks like can be different between different cultures.  It might be useful to explore the rules and assumptions about the ‘work’ that will be completed while on placement with the student.
  • Communication: How will I manage communication where it is assumed that it is a designated First Nations role? It is not uncommon for colleagues and service users to assume that a First Nations student is working in an ‘identified’ First Nations role, as opposed to an allied health professional in a non-identified role. 
  • Cultural and Colonial load: How will cultural responsibilities and colonial load be managed when it occurs? It is not uncommon for First Nations people to be nominated as ‘unofficial spokespersons’ for their people.  This is known as ‘cultural/ colonial load’ Supervisors must be aware of the burden this may place on a student and have strategies in place to manage it.
  • Support systems: Are there systems in place to support First Nations students should they need to fulfil obligations to Country and community? Sharing learning: How will students be encouraged to share their learning journey? 
    • Can story telling be used for students to reflect on a placement experience?
    • Can deep listening be used as a tool during feedback sessions?
    • Can yarning (living conversation involving active listening, learning and response) be a tool for provision of feedback?

As the placement commences:

  • Complete a placement agreement that details how students will be culturally supported during their placement.
  • Ask the student about their understanding of communities and traditions (if relevant for placement setting). Do not make assumptions about their existing knowledge.

Supervision frameworks and models

Supervision self-assessment tools


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. 

  • Harris, T., & O’Donoghue, K. (2020). Developing culturally responsive supervision through yarn up time and the case supervision model. Australian Social Work, 73(1), 64–76.
  • Hardie, P., O’Donovan, R., Jarvis, S. et al. Key tips to providing a psychologically safe learning environment in the clinical setting. BMC Med Educ 22, 816 (2022).
  • Clark, T. R. (2020). The 4 stages of psychological safety: Defining the path to inclusion and innovation. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  • QUT Field Education Unit (Social work integrated supervision support) website (2023) Cross cultural supervision.  Retrieved November 2023 from QUT SWISS - Cross cultural supervision
  • Diversity Council Australia/Jumbunna Institute (Brown, C., DAlmada-Remedios, R., Gilbert, J. OLeary, J. and Young, N.) Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Centreing the Work Experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia/Jumbunna Institute, 2020.
  • Laycock, A. with Walker, D., Harrison, N. & Brands, J. 2009, Supporting Indigenous Researchers: A Practical Guide for Supervisors, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, Darwin.


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