Joanne Bolton awarded for engaging curriculum that prioritise Indigenous knowledges in health professions curricula

Learning from Indigenous voices is fundamental to ensuring that students have the right tools to provide inclusive and culturally appropriate practice throughout their careers. For Joanne Bolton, it is extremely important that the next generation of health care professionals have a deep understanding and respect for the knowledges of Indigenous People. In particular of the Wurundjeri people, on whose lands staff and students of the University of Melbourne work and learn on every day.

Four people standing and smiling in front of an Indigenous artwork by Treahna Hamm. From left to right, Shawana Andrews, Tamara Clements, Associate Professor Louisa Remedios and Joanne Bolton

Left to Right: Shawana Andrews, Tamara Clements, Associate Professor Louisa Remedios and Joanne Bolton. Background Artwork: Treahna Hamm.

Congratulations to Joanne for receiving this year's Award for Excellence and Innovation in Indigenous Education at the Melbourne Excellence Awards. The award recognises her work that seeks to prioritise Indigenous voices and knowledges in health education throughout her career. Joanne emphasises however that the award celebrates the way in which she works collaboratively with a team of people including many Indigenous academics, staff and mentors.

"I'm not Indigenous and have never been in an Indigenous lecturer position. However the story I want to share is about how non-Indigenous academics, like myself, can work with respect and in partnership by learning from our fabulous Indigenous academics, who have been so generous in supporting my learning and leading many learning, teaching and research activities across the University" explains Joanne.

"It's not just about learning how to listen, learn, and make space but also how to shoulder the load and not to handball everything over. To stand beside Indigenous lecturers, staff and community and prioritise their voices, stories and knowledges while acknowledging we all have an important role to play in reconciliation. To me I think this means taking personal responsibility for your own cultural safety practice, which in my case is as a health professions educator, and actively seeking out what are the things you can do within your role that contributes to more culturally safe, inclusive and equitable healthcare”.

Joanne recently entered the position of Interprofessional Education and Practice Development Fellow at the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. This position follows six years at the MSHS Department of Physiotherapy, teaching in the Doctor of Physiotherapy program. Her new role focuses on facilitating connections between schools, departments, teachers, students and the wider community through curriculum activities. Joanne is particularly interested in ensuring that Indigenous knowledges are actively integrated into curricula to facilitate student learning of how to build respectful partnerships with Indigenous communities.

"One of the things which is true to how I teach is that I always acknowledge that it is a privilege as a non-Indigenous person to be welcomed, and to learn, teach and live on the lands of the Wurundjeri people," says Joanne.

"You only have so long with students, and as a subject co-ordinator you do some choices about what you think will be most helpful for their careers. I really do think that engaging with Indigenous knowledges is helpful for so many reasons, such as deeply understanding patient centred care and how to enact collaborative leadership."

Over several years, Joanne has co-developed a range of initiatives and programs working towards this goal. Events include the recent 'Ways of Knowing Day', bringing students from medicine, nursing, physiotherapy and optometry together to focus on First Nations' health and wellbeing through a range of interprofessional teaching and learning activities. Joanne also led the development of an online cultural safety training for physiotherapists,  community engagement initiatives as the subject co-ordinator of the 'Healthcare in Context' capstone subject in the Doctor of Physiotherapy Program and co-led a ‘train-the-trainer’ program for Faculty of MDHS staff.

Most popular with staff and students however are the onsite visits to the Melbourne Museum's Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre within the First Peoples Gallery, originally co-developed with UoM Shawana Andrews (then School of Health Sciences Indigenous Health Lecturer, now Associate Director, Melbourne POCHE Centre for Indigenous Health). Located on Wurundjeri Country, the centre provides an opportunity for health professional staff and students to learn and listen deeply to the knowledges of Indigenous Victorians.

"It's about being immersed in the voices of Victorian Aboriginal people in the way that the story should be told," describes Joanne.

"It's an absolutely beautiful space with a whole range of ways to interact. There's a Deep Listening pod where you can sit and listen to members of the community share their experiences with you. There's things to read, music, audio visual installations, it's really an incredible extensive collection that has been collaboratively developed by and for Victorian Aboriginal people and communities ".

Last year Joanne was successful in receiving an Chancellery Engagement Grant with Shawana Andrews, A/Prof Louisa Remedios, Dr Ngaree Blow and Tamara Clements and one of the outcomes of this project was a new ‘Deep Listening for Health Professionals’ guide that was developed in partnership with staff at Bunjilaka and further helps support and guide students learning with the visit.

Although the Bunjilaka centre has been closed most of the year due to COVID-19, Joanne has worked closely with the Melbourne Museum to enable students to access the learning through online resources and a ‘virtual’ experience.

"Because of the relationship we had with the museum we’ve had so much support as to how we could run this in a virtual world, but it doesn't replace the visit. As soon as we can we'll go with the students in person," explains Joanne.

"My hope is that the experience stays with students and encourages them to continue on their own learning journeys. It's about moving beyond this 'tick box' concept and getting people to realise that it's an ongoing life-long learning and re-learning process, and building skills of  how to be respectful and learning how to build and how to maintain trust with your future patients as a healthcare professional".

Acknowledgement from Joanne Bolton

To the many Indigenous academics that I continue to learn from, in particular my sincere gratitude, respect and deep personal thanks to Ms Shawana Andrews for her invaluable support and guidance over the past 7 years.

In addition to Dr Ngaree Blow, Mr Josh Cubillo, Ms Madelyn Hudson-Buhagiar and Mr Alister Thorpe for sharing their knowledges with me.

To my academic mentor Associate Professor Louisa Remedios for her unwavering support and wisdom in guiding my scholarship of teaching and learning.