Uncomfortable curricula? A survey of academic practices and attitudes to delivering Indigenous content in health professional degrees

Naomi Wolfe, Loretta Sheppard, Peter Le Rossignol, Shawn Somerset

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Unacceptable inequity in health status between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains despite much work in the area. The imperative for graduating health professionals capable and ready to work with urban and rural Indigenous communities has led to a focus on curriculum development, but less focus has thus far been applied to academic staff capability to deliver the content. We surveyed academic staff at a large multi-campus Australian university on their practices and attitudes towards teaching Indigenous content in health professional programs. Indigenous and non-Indigenous academic staff were surveyed online about whether Indigenous content was included in the curricula they taught; whether they felt confident and capable of delivering curricula related to Indigenous issues; what challenges they found in including Indigenous content; and what, if any, supports and resources they felt were needed. Sixty-three per cent of respondents said that they included Indigenous content in their curricula, but 43% said that they did not access Indigenous resources; 60% reported feeling awkward, unsure or avoided teaching Indigenous content; most (74%) were comfortable teaching discipline-specific content to Indigenous students but only 26% felt comfortable teaching Indigenous content to Indigenous students. The findings reflect a level of discomfort experienced by some academic staff when teaching Indigenous content in health professional degrees. Reasons for this include being worried they would make mistakes, not knowing what to teach and finding it ‘too hard’. We suggest that three levels of action are required within universities to address this discomfort in academic staff: (i) provide a rationale (‘why’ teach Indigenous content); (ii) develop a plan (‘where’ and ‘what’ Indigenous content to teach) and (iii) develop capability in academic staff regarding ‘how’ to teach Indigenous content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-662
Number of pages14
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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