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Inspiring change

Associate professor Roianne West, of James Cook University, is the first full-time Aboriginal academic in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition. She spoke to Aileen Macalintal.

We understand how gruelling doing a PhD is. How did you brave the storms of a PhD student? What kept you going?

There is this terrific song by Joyce Johnson Rouse called Standing on the Shoulders. It came to mind when I finally celebrated the academic attainment and success of being awarded a Doctor of Philosophy and reflected on exactly that question. What kept me going? I am ever mindful of those who have gone before me, in whose footsteps I have followed and now veer from to create my own path. The song goes:

I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
I am stronger for their courage, I am wiser for their words
I am lifted by their longing for a fair and brighter future
I am grateful for their vision, for their tolling on this Earth.

Sometimes that support lifted my academic game; sometimes it has been a personal inspiration, especially on those days when I felt I could not get out of bed and face another moment of the journey's challenges. Sometimes, that support has been a reminder of the exquisite gift of family, friends, colleagues and loved ones who have been prepared to support me even when it meant putting their needs ahead of my wants.

How do you manage your time between your children and your career?

I laugh because I don't know if I have done this bit that well, but hey, I survived. I knew that the sacrifices I made were short-term only and the benefits outweighed those.

At times I felt torn, but thinking of the longer-term benefits, although hard at that point in time, made this task easier.

Who influenced you in taking up a career in nursing and a place in academia?

I come from a family of nurses on both my mother's and father's side. They were hospital-trained.
It's inevitable that I would work in indigenous health. I started out as a health worker, but I wanted to do more and make a difference to a greater number of my people and, for me, nursing was the best vehicle in which to do that. My three children also strongly inspire me to do what I do; to show them that anything was possible in spite of the challenges we sometimes face.

I went to the academe as I developed a passion for teaching which I felt comes naturally. In order to succeed here, completing a PhD is of paramount importance, and I've never looked back.

What makes you passionate about improving the lives of Aboriginal people?

For generations, my family has worked tirelessly towards improving the lives of Aboriginal people. My mother, who was in indigenous health for over forty years, inspires me every day to do what I do. This is my purpose in life and my destiny.

What do you think can be done to finally close the gap? What can nurses contribute to this movement?

Indigenous nurses and midwives are critical to closing the gap! I can't emphasise that enough.

Evidence demonstrates that an increase in the indigenous health workforce is necessary to ensuring the Close the Gap campaign success.

Given that nurses and midwives make up the greatest percentage of that workforce, it makes sense that there is a concentrated effort in increasing indigenous nurses and midwives along with their capacity to take on leadership positions in industry, research and academia towards leading Australia's nursing and midwifery workforce towards improving indigenous health outcomes.

Any memorable experience in caring for others?

Every day! To see the response from my mob when they hear and see what I do every day; they don't necessarily know me, but they feel proud, and this gives them faith that things are improving for our people.

What is your perfect weekend like?

Work-free! A walk up Castle Hill, and then laze in the ocean! Coffee and breakfast with family and friends.

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